Listen to the podcast version of this article below or wherever you find podcasts.
One Word Suggestion: Teachers.
Welcome to One Word Suggestion.
Most people think improv is just for comedy or jazz music. But, really, it’s a tool for life. For each article in this series I use a single word, suggested by you, as a leaping off point to explore how having an improvisational mindset will help you perform at a higher level, both personally and professionally, whether you have a career on or off the stage.
In the Dalai Lama’s wonderful book, The Art of Happiness, he tells a story about Buddha and his annoying assistant. And I don’t remember exactly how it goes, but the gist of it is something like this:
Buddha decides to head out on a long journey to spread his message of peace, love and meditation across the land, so he hires a porter to be his assistant along the way. And as it turns out the porter he hires is widely known to be the most cranky, lazy, miserable, and useless porter in the history of porters.
And everywhere Buddha goes people scratch their bald monk heads in disbelief that the Buddha himself could have made what was so obviously a terrible choice.
Finally, after months on the road, one of the monks can’t take it anymore and he asks Buddha, “why in the hell did you hire this annoying guy? There are so many better porters!” And Buddha says…
“Oh him? He’s my teacher.”
In this instance the lessons were patience, tolerance, empathy and more – all good things to learn. The good news is when it comes to learning and applying the principles of improv, you don’t need to be as disciplined as Buddha, and you’re pretty unlikely to encounter an annoying teacher, especially at LMA. But that doesn’t change the fact that every person you meet has something to teach you – no matter how annoying – or lovely – they are. And no matter how much you already know – or think you know.
You just have to be willing to learn.
To benefit from great teachers, you need to be a great student, and, sticking with the theme here, there’s a Zen Buddhist term I love called “Shoshin” which means “beginner’s mind.” Which essentially just means having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level.
A friend of mine recently got a trick bicycle that goes left when you turn the handlebars right and right when you turn them left just so he could re-experience the beginner’s mind state at a visceral level.
The point is, to be great at anything you have to keep learning. Always. And to be a great teacher you have to be a good student. Always.
One of our advisors at LMA is Jonathan Pitts – a guy who was at The Second City in Chicago from the beginning, a guy who ran The Chicago Improv Festival for 20 years, a guy who makes his living travelling the world teaching improv (and eating cake) – and even he still takes classes.
So I’m always shocked by students who come out of our program after completing a few levels and think they’re done. They’re an improviser now. Tick. Done. Bye!
Here are some facts: You can’t learn without patience and practice. You might not need Malcolm Gladwell’s ten thousand hours, but it’s something to strive for if you want to be great.
You can’t learn without listening and, ironically, improv can teach you how to become an active listener.
You can’t learn without curiosity and an open mind. And if you’re listening to or reading this, then you can probably tick that one off.
And lastly, you can’t learn without making mistakes – which is why at LMA we teach people to celebrate failure.
Like Thomas Edison said about his many attempts to create the light bulb:
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”
As for me personally, all I know is, the more I learn, the more I realise how little I know. So if you’re up for it, come teach me something! Just try not to be annoying about it.
If you want to suggest a word for next week, or add your perspective, drop me a note in the comments or in a review. I’m making one of these every week, for a year, so definitely subscribe, like, share, and all that jazz.
Or better yet, listen to the podcast.
And in the meantime, if you’re interested in improv for personal growth, professional achievement, or just for fun, my suggestion is to get yourself into an improv class or book a corporate training workshop for your team.
You can learn all about PowerProv’s programs at powerprov.com.au
About One Word Suggestion
The One Word Suggestion series is your personal toolbox full of ways to help you use the power of improvisation to craft a more mindful and meaningful existence. Available as articles, a podcast, and soon, a book filled with powerful exercises for teams.
The One Word Suggestion Podcast with Eran Thomson
In each 3-minute episode, Eran uses a single word, suggested by listeners, as a leaping off point to explore how developing an improvisational mindset will help you perform at a higher level personally and professionally.
Whether you aspire to be better on stage or on the job, this quick hit of improv inspiration is sure to bring you some insights, perspective, and joy.
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Like what you hear? Listen to Eran’s guest appearances on other people’s podcasts, or invite him to speak at your next event.
Learn about the best improv training for teams at PowerProv.
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