The situation calls for us to become increasingly better improvisers

We’ve all had to wear a number of different hats over the past 3 weeks. I’ve had to learn how to wear the “making breakfast for my daughter” hat under the “attending a website-accessibility webinar” baseball cap under the “washing the dishes” top hat under the “researching live chat solutions for our website” fedora.

That’s a lot of hats.

It’s not so much the number of new tasks that need to be taken care of as the pressure of doing all the tasks simultaneously with the same quality and care as they were done before Covid-19.

The situation calls for us to become increasingly better improvisers.

Keith Johnstone, the father of improvisation describes why perfection is so difficult to achieve through improvisation:

“If you improvise spontaneously in front of an audience you have to accept that your innermost self will be revealed. The same is true of any artist. If you want to write a working class play then you’d better be working class. An artist has to accept what his imagination gives him, or screw up his talent.” – Johnstone

We’re good at tools when we’ve become experts. It takes a long time to master a tool. How long will it take you to master Zoom?

It’s hard to write this blog post because my daughter is crying in her pack and play next to me screaming that she needs “more wah bah” before she takes her nap for the day.

Maintaining focus is the hardest thing. There is no option to work at the coffee shop. There is no, “I will work on this when I have some time to myself.”

We need to work with each other in new creative ways because we need to keep our composure to retain the peace we need to survive.

“One who excels in employing others humbles himself before them. This is known as the virtue of non-contention; this is known as making use of the efforts of the others. To know, yet to think that one does not know, is best … the sage does not hoard.” – Johnstone

We need to be the first to apologize.

“The actor or improviser must accept his disabilities, and allow himself to be insulted, or he’ll never really feel safe.” – Johnstone

Think about that. Really think about that. We need to allow ourselves to be insulted or we will never truly feel safe.

Covid-19 requires us to relate to each other in new ways that may have felt uncomfortable or unsafe before. We need to get better at solving challenges together. We need diverse collaborators.

“What matters to me is the ease with which I free associate and the skill with which I reincorporate.” – Johnstone

But we can’t take too long to take action.

“I don’t deny the importance of thinking, inventing, or planning, but if you have to improvise on the spot, and that’s exactly what we have to do, you must act and not think. It’s action we must have – wise, foolish, or naive, simple or complicated, but action.” – Johnstone

We have to improvise. New tech is a dance of improvisation. We’ll have to find the steps and incorporate them into our daily rituals before we can truly learn to dance.

My nephew used to get down on himself at baseball practice. He’d compare himself to the other kids who had been playing baseball for years.

I’d keep telling him, “Don’t worry about not being good with it now. The only difference between you and the kids who do this well is experience. They’ve had 100 at bats. They’ve just done it more than you have.”

The best way through improvisation is over-communication.

Over-communicate to let your colleagues know you got their email. Open yourself up to new ways of communicating your solidarity through this tough time.

Virginia Satir is a well-known psychologist who’s written many books on people-making. She stresses the primary importance of communication:

“Once a human being has arrived on earth, communication is the largest single factor determining what kinds of relationships he makes with others and what happens to him in the world about him.” – Satir

During these tough times, it can be easy to write people off and focus on how their communication style clashes with yours. The important thing to remember is that it “takes the whole city to raise a child.”

We need to find commonalities and focus on our similarities to develop the relationships we desire:

“If humans never find their sameness, they will never meet; if they never meet their differentness, they cannot be real or develop a truly human and zestful relationship with one another.” – Satir

We need to rely on each others strengths right now. We need to allow for differences. We need to recognize that we are in this together and use this opportunity to reconnect and rediscover our shared humanity.

Contact me if you have any stories about how you pushed through difficulties to over-communicate and thrive during these Covid-19 times.

Author: David Neely

Professional Software Developer. Technology and Web Coordinator at the University of Hawaii's Manoa Career Center.