Happy World Environment Day: here’s how improvisation can save the world


June 5th, 2012

What does improvisation have to do with the environment?

As it turns out, plenty. We humans are the ones that have tried to tame and control the environment. Nature adapts to what is, and is resilient.

Michelle Holliday explains:

Living systems (like plants and people and companies) appear to be static things, but in fact, it’s more accurate to think of them as pattern and process.  They create themselves continuously through ongoing interaction with their environment.  And their environment is constantly throwing new, unpredictable things at them.  So what do they do?  They respond creatively and collaboratively to unexpected circumstances.  This is how all the parts of your body manage to maintain homeostasis (and you!), for example, even as you spring sudden changes of temperature, strange new foods and weird chemicals on them.  They improvise.

In our bodies and in other living systems, this creative process happens naturally, in the moment.  In our organizations, however, we’ve short-circuited this instinct, choosing instead to stiffly predict and control.  But our capacity to improvise is not lost completely.  It resurfaces in rare moments of peak performance that psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow.”  In these moments, he says, “The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”  What he’s describing is nothing other than improvisation at its best.

So how can improv save the world? I’m going to hand that question to Belina Raffy who answers in this wonderful pecha kucha talk. Belina believes, and I agree with her, that

…the overarching problems humanity faces are so complex and require such a high degree of creativity, collaboration and inspiration that improv may be the only effective means of solving them.  Rational, linear, individually-generated solutions are simply not up to the task.  The challenge will be to find ways to play together even in the face of unthinkable disaster.

So on this World Environment Day, take a few minutes to watch this video and ponder how improv can indeed save the world! Belina’s definition of improv is worth pondering too: “co-creating joyfully, under pressure, an emergent narrative together.” Yeah.

If you’re in the southern hemisphere, we’re coming together for two days in July in Melbourne to further explore how the principles and practices of improv can be applied – to help save the world, and more! Want to join us? More information here. If you’re in the northern hemisphere, check out Thrivability Montreal.

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