I’ve been rereading this great post by Gary Schwartz: The Trouble with Yes, And. It’s written with experienced improvisers in mind, but I think it has some really interesting perspectives for anyone interested in creativity.
Gary looks at the improv principle of saying “Yes, and” which is essentially the idea that when we consider what others offer, we try to build on them. It’s not a bad idea and it will be familiar to most folks who’ve been to brainstorming sessions. I think Gary puts his finger on how it can be limiting, with this quote from his mentor, Viola Spolin:
Creativity is not the clever rearranging of the known
If we get stuck in politely trying to build a wall where my brick is politely added to your brick we appear to be doing something together, but we’re not really in flow. Gary argues that we get stuck in our heads, exchanging information… but Spolin says that
information is a weak form of communication
Gary talks about his improv exercises based on “following the follower” which I have found can create quite surprising moments of intimacy and uncertainty. Players are tempted to escape that experience, but it offers the opportunity to enter genuinely new territory together. Here’s what Gary argues:
There needs to be a way to transcend the bounds of information and enter into the theatrical and inspired. That can only be found in the intuitive connection between players. Intuitive connection is not as easy to create as one would think. It can certainly not be willed into being… When true flow occurs, all the participants happily enter into the exploration of the unknown, unencumbered by judgment, premeditation, and old frames of reference. Only then can true improvisation occur.
Sometimes I think people talk about innovation as if all the vulnerability and intimacy can be squeezed out, to make it a nice safe activity for alpha males. Events billed as a “battle of ideas” come to mind: on one level they sound daring and adventurous, but I wonder if really they keep as all very safe arguing intellectually with each other. They seem to me to reinforce our sense of separation. The notion of creativity involving intimacy and vulnerabilty, and being inherently relational, is – for me – much more interesting.