Making change fun

15 12 2009

There are probably as many behavioural change theories as there are people who want to change.

What bogs most of us down, I think, is that change is often positioned or perceived as something hard, requires large doses of self-discipline and is longdrawn.

It doesn’t always have to be that way.  In this Volkswagen initiative, site creators believe that fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better.

As I reflect on my own recent path through change, I can relate.

I started taking improv lessons a year ago, and to say they’ve been life-changing is a monumental understatement.

The rewards of improvisation extend far beyond its theatrical ability to entertain and captivate.  When done well, the improviser experiences not just a unique sense of ‘flow’ or being ‘in the zone’, but a surreal feel of collaborative storytelling, reminiscent of childhood playground fantasy games.

In a word, good improv is FUN.  For the performers and the audience.

What, then, does all this have to do with change?

One of the first tenets of improv is having the courage to fail and take risks.  If you make a mistake, celebrate, don’t berate.  That barrier is easier said than done to cross, particularly in our structured left-brained dominant world, but reaching the other side is oh-so-sweet.

For when you’re on the other side, things get juicy.  You begin to release your inner child, that openness that makes you want to play and people want to play with you.  You gain more courage to say ‘yes, and’ to offers that come your way (both on- and offstage), instead of the more typical ‘no’ that keeps you in your comfortable risk-free zone.

As you allow this notion of risk-taking to permeate your consciousness, you start making bolder choices in the characters you play and the extremes you go to on stage.  The audience squeals with delight at each choice, fueling you to go further.

Then there are your fellow players.  In a strong and experienced ensemble, this positive risk-taking is multipled manifold.  Each sentence or movement by an improv player is an offer thrown out to the group, bait that the others must repond to so as to advance the story.  And each offer represents the potential to change the scene, a character or the plot.  When the offer is acknowledged and, more importantly, amplified by another player, the audience is thrilled beyond measure.

Change can happen as often as once every 5 seconds in an improvised scene or play.  And, in contrast to most corporate settings or even many personal lives, these changes are accepted with grace and amplified with confidence by one or all on stage.

An improv ensemble is a mystical thing.  To the outsider, it seems as if they’re magicians conjuring up impossibly cogent stories and compelling characters on the fly.  As a recent insider, I’ve come to know that it’s a delightful exercise in creativity and innovation based on making change fun.