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The Unboxed Brain is a monthly ezine bringing you innovation, spirit and creativity.  We feature articles by coaching professionals and others working on the creative frontier.

"Simple" doesn't always mean "easy"

 by Sue Walden         

Over the past 25 years of facilitating groups through our public workshop program and in business settings, I have been consistently awed by the simplicity, versatility and fundamental nature of improvisation skills. Feedback from students and clients keeps reinforcing how many different parts of their lives where they use these core skills.

Acceptance and Openness – an attitude of receptivity that allows differences to co-exist. In addition to helping us get along with, respect and even maybe appreciate a neighbor, co-worker or child who has different views and values, this gives us geometrically more options and possibilities to choose from. Can you imagine being open and appreciative without agreeing? That’s a tough one!

Being in the Present – focusing totally on the here-and-now. Once you learn how to quiet all the mind-chatter and turn down the ego-driven, mostly non-supportive, judgmental voice, you will be amazed at how much more relaxed you become. This skill helps conserve a lot of energy because it eliminates a lot of unnecessary pre-planning and pre-thinking. Great for reducing stress.

Awareness – once you are present, you see more, hear more, feel more.

Concentration / Focus - this is the muscle required to stay present and attentive.

Flexibility / Responsiveness – by being present, open, aware and not expecting, you can mentally turn on a dime. This is the simple secret to always having the appropriate response to the situation at hand.

Give & Take – how to work with a group of people in a way that values and makes room for everyone’s contribution.

Think on your feet – instantly access your resources, creativity and full range of expressiveness.

“Yes, and…” – this is the process, as well as the attitude that combines ALL of the above. It acknowledges and appreciates what ever is offered or happens and builds off that potential. It totally eliminates the negative implications of “mistakes” and makes everything a possibility for new ideas. (Remember: the glue on Post-It Notes was a “mistake”!)

Now, the truth is that even before taking a workshop in improvisation, people KNOW about these skills. It’s also true that people don’t always USE the skills that are best for a given situation – we are creatures of habit, and our education system and business-oriented culture emphasize our analytical skills at the expense of the skills listed above. So when we act, re-act or respond out of habit, we may be using the wrong tool for the job

As time is pulsing faster, as the amount of change is increasing, as we are being required to do more with less, and the world is getting smaller, the skills above are becoming crucial as the way to make our lives simple, effective and rich. The hard part is paying attention so that we are not operating out of habit. ImprovWorks is dedicated to strengthening this skill set, which means providing a lot of fun experiences that offer practice in these simple skills…to make them accessible and easy again.

 © 2003. Sue Walden, all rights reserved



Sue Walden is Executive & Artistic Director of ImprovWorks, the San Francisco Center for Improvisation.

Sue has been teaching and performing improvisation for 25 years, and has applied the principles and tools of improv training in IW's public program, in schools, senior centers, community organizations and agencies, in small businesses and large corporations.

She also co-authored "Working with Groups to Enhance Relationships", a workshop in book form to help people build their relationship skills (See our “Books” section) , and is writing one currently on the connection between play and learning.

Contact her at :



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