Yay, We Made A Mistake!!

Embracing Discomfort

Yesterday I was part of the East Side Institute’s http://www.eastsideinstitute.org Winter Institute: Getting Out of Our Comfort Zones (Together) led by Cathy Salit, CEO of Performance of A Lifetime http://www.performanceofalifetime.com and Christine LaCerva, Director of The Social Therapy Group centers http://www.socialtherapygroup.com.

Cathy led us in a fun game where we had to use a different name for ourselves (our middle name or nickname or a made-up super hero name).  We formed circles of 10-11 people around the room and had to quickly tried to learn everyone’s name.  Then each person  pointed to another in the circle and said their name.  If someone hesitated or said the wrong name they threw their arms up and said, “We made a mistake!” – then the others in the group responded with throwing their arms up and adding, “We did!” and then we all applauded and cheered and then the person who made the mistake moved to another circle.

The discussion/debrief about this game was quite rich.  This was a new experience, to  find ourselves in a situation in which we said “We made a mistake!” when someone in our group made a mistake.  The attendees shared many responses to making mistakes, to others making mistakes and what that looks like in many contexts, business being one of the more difficult environments for making mistakes and embracing the social activity of mistake-making (vs the blame game).

LaCerva was encouraging workshop attendees to get out of our comfort zones by embracing discomfort, embarrassment and the embarrassment of others, and our weirdness in the face of being outside of our comfort zone.  The activity of embracing the mistakes we make and others make as our mistakes is weird, uncomfortable and embarrassing.  LaCerva reminded us that in our culture we are “addicted to thinking of ourselves”.  She suggested that we, “go beyond the tyranny of the normal.” It turns out, as  people shared, that it is freeing and less constraining emotionally to allow ourselves to have our relationality, we are social beings; we cannot do much of anything without others and that includes making mistakes.  

My colleague Lois Holzman is writing a book called The Overweight Brain.  She posts the book, chapter-by-chapter, for all to read on her website: http://loisholzman.org/books/latest-installment/ 

In Chapter 2, which Lois just posted, she introduces people to Lev Vygotsky, a “revolutionary scientist” and early Soviet psychologist.  Towards the end of the chapter Lois quotes Vygotsky: 

Somehow our society has formed a one-sided view of the human personality, and for some reason everyone understood giftedness and talent only as it applied to the intellect. But it is possible not only to be talented in one’s thoughts but also to be talented in one’s feelings as well. The emotional part of the personality has no less value than the other sides, and it also should be the object and concern of education, as well as intellect and will. Love can reach the same level of talent and even genius, as the discovery of differential calculus.

In thinking about “we made a mistake” and our difficulties with embracing our failures (large and small), this notion that we could also be talented in our feelings as well as our intellect, makes it easier to radically accept our mistakes as being human.  Sadly our culture devalues our emotions and doesn’t allow us the room to embrace our feelings of embarrassment, etc. when we make mistakes. Instead the norm is to have to find someone to blame.

I learned and experienced many things in this workshop.  Perhaps the most important was that certain mistakes, often the larger, more challenging/upsetting mistakes that we make happen because we’ve grown.  We put ourselves in more challenging positions and therefore we make bigger mistakes.  We spend so much time berating ourselves for our mistakes, or blaming ourselves or others, that we totally miss that because we’ve grown and developed so the stakes are higher.  That turns mistake-making on its head!

Or, as Lois puts it:

We’re always making something new out of what exists. We transform the very circumstances that we’re in. We engage in becoming.

Granted, it might be hard to throw your hands in the air and cheer, “We made a mistake!” at the office but the next time you or a colleague makes a mistake, try a new performance and see what it’s like to not have to blame anyone and thereby engage in becoming.  It might just make your overweight brain a little lighter!

The Best Managers are Performing Ahead of Themselves

Lately I’ve been observing how people approach the role of manager.  Given my training as an actress and improviser, I often think of roles in theatrical terms.  Sometimes people get “cast” as a manager but they haven’t played this role before, nor have they had any training (rehearsal) for the demands of developing and managing a team.

My training in the social therapeutic method introduced me to Lev Vygotsky, an early Soviet psychologist who greatly influenced the field of human development.  Vygotsky talked about performing “a head taller” than we are – I love this image.  For those of us who find ourselves having to manage others, we often have to do things that seem impossible, given our limitations.  Managing people requires great emotional intelligence, honesty and impeccable listening skills.

Recently I’ve read a couple of wonderful pieces about managing people that appeared in the Harvard Business Review – I love these titles and encourage you to read what these authors have to say:

If You’re Not Helping People Develop, You’re Not Management Material http://bit.ly/1iqtoue

Employees Who Feel Love Perform Better http://bit.ly/1ePYqu4  

These articles, wonderful as they are, don’t say much about the “how” of developing into a great manager, although they give some steps to take, which I wholeheartedly support.  What I’m most interested in is the performance required to allow oneself to give a team the support they need to develop, which is one way of understanding what is meant by “love” in this context.  In speaking to people about their experiences with managers, they often describe the close bonds that are forged when someone takes the time and effort to give to their people.

Some people end up as managers by default and, not surprisingly, they put all their focus on what they from their people, rather on what their people need from their manager. This is an impossible situation, as an effective manager’s mantra needs to be “give, give and then give some more”, especially if you want to help your people develop. (Hint: You might have to develop!)

Sadly in our culture the act of giving is not often cultivated.  After all, we live in a culture that is all about getting.  So most of us who manage teams of people have to perform a head taller than we are in order to give, especially in the moments when we are frustrated, disappointed, or let down by someone on our team.  This is where performance becomes a wonderful tool, as there are countless performances to be created at these moments!  As human beings we are all wonderfully creative when it comes to performing (think back to when you were a child).  The work I do with my clients is all about creating a character, a role, a performance for these challenging moments (this is how you can perform ahead taller and this is how we grow and develop).

Creative imitation is a good way to begin. Is there a mentor from your past, a role model, even an actor who you admire and can imitate?  What I mean by “creative imitation” is to create your version of this person, using them as inspiration to perform a head taller than you are.  Perhaps you steer clear of conflict – is there someone to imitate who is fearless in the face of conflict?  One of my clients decided to perform as Meryl Streep in Iron Lady, which allowed her to perform as a strong woman in situations that would normally intimidate her.

Next time you have to have a tough conversation with a team member, or you feel the frustrations that comes with being a manager, be a head taller than you are … perform (and develop)!

A playground for becoming

As an executive coach who uses a performance-based improvisational methodology I play a lot with my clients.  After I finished a coaching session today it hit me that I had asked my client to join me in a “playground for becoming”.  I learned this concept from Christine LaCerva, the Director of The Social Therapy Group here in New York.  Christine recently referred to social therapy as a playground for becoming — a place where clients are encouraged to perform ahead of themselves and create new performances, new responses and a new emotionality.

This client and I have been playing some basic “yes and” improv games; in today’s session we created basic improvisational scenes together.  After we warmed up I suggested that we try an exercise I teach to beginners in my improv class — I set up a situation whereby we would be likely to argue with the rule that we cannot argue.  The game was to find ways to say “yes and” and cooperate with each other without fighting.  

In this instance I set up that we were co-workers and one of us got the promotion the other wanted. I decided to do this exercise because my client was insistent that there were only one or two possible ways to respond to a particular business situation – to be reactive or to disengage.

What we created together was possibility – going beyond what we know how to do.  The discovery? We don’t always have to be who we are (i.e., respond based on how we feel).  As human beings we can also be who we are not; we can say “yes and” and give of ourselves in positive ways.  We explored the possiblity of being direct and powerful in the moments that we feel reactive. That’s what it means to be who we are becoming – to create and discover new possibilities.

Perhaps most importantly, we can play together. We sat in the sandbox learning together in our playground for becoming.  It was a lovely moment when my client felt the power of possiblity.  It was intimate and growthful for both of us.  We created something new together!

The next time you feel stuck, create a developmental playground and invite someone to be who they are becoming with you.

For more information about social therapy and Christine LaCerva visit the website of The Social Therapy Group: http://www.socialtherapygroup.com

Transform in a moment . . . through performance!

I’ve been thinking a lot about coaching this week — maybe because I’ve been coaching a lot this week!

In the early part of the week I had the chance to participate in a corporate training for a leading management consulting firm thanks to my colleagues at Performance of A Lifetime (http://performanceofalifetime.com) who hired me as a coach and role player for this gig. Our fantastic, talented team of improviser/role players spent the day being interviewed by teams of young consultants (fresh out of college); at the end of the day each of us coached teams of these young consultants based on feedback from those interviews.

Later in the week, I had coaching sessions with a few of my young colleagues at a client company where I’m the “communication specialist”.

It’s wonderful to give young people the chance to use performance as a tool for growth, no matter what the context!  It’s very gratifying to share how performance helps us grow and develop.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of watching a video of a talk that one of my mentors, Dr. Fred Newman, gave at Town Hall back in 1997 on “performance therapy”.  Fred is the chief architect of the methodology that I was trained in (and that Performance of A Lifetime utilizes in their work).  As always Fred had many thought provoking things to share; given what’s been on my mind this week this sentence jumped out at me:

“We have the capacity to transform ourselves in a moment through performance.”

What got me thinking was this notion of transforming ourselves in a moment.  Our psychologically-overdetermined culture sends the message that transformation is about introspection, explanation and knowing — and that it can take years of therapy! Along comes Fred Newman saying that we can tranform ourselves in a moment!

When Newman talks about performance therapy he is acknowledging the essential human activity of being who we are and who we are not at the same time.  Each of us has the capacity and can make the choice, moment-to-moment, to perform — to be other than who we are — and thereby to transform ourselves.

How liberating!

For more information about Newman, performance therapy/social therapy, and learning more about the performance approach see the website of the East Side Institute at http://www.eastsideinstitute.org

Appreciate who we are becoming

I’ve been experiencing and learning about human development both personally and professionally as I approach six months of my new professional life as a consultant and coach.  As readers of this blog know I like to quote Dr. Fred Newman who created a methodology and practice (social therapy) that has given thousands of people around the world the opportunity to develop and create their lives.

Fred used to have a call-in radio show called, Let’s Develop!. I’d take time and carefully design questions for Fred and call into the show almost every week; Fred was always very appreciative of calls from “Marian from Manhattan”. One week he responded to a question I asked by sharing that development is the interplay of who you were, who you are, and who you are becoming.

These words have come to me several times during coaching sessions with MBA students. I’m helping them develop confidence and skills as they go through their interviews for internships and post-graduate positions. Combining my experience as an executive search consultant, actress/director, and improvisational expert I give students the support and direction they need to play and pretend, practice and develop a performance of who they are becoming.

In a HBR post this week Joshua Erlich wrote a piece Developing Executive Presence that summed up the basic work that executive coaches do to help with this issue — http://bit.ly/vFjNve

This quote jumped out at me:

Practice with support. Letting a colleague or mentor know you are working on presence can boost your skills and confidence.

People need support.  Maybe that sounds obvious but I think we underestimate how much support we all need to grow in our overly individualistic culture.  In order to move in and around who we were, who we are and who we are becoming we need to build relationships that support this kind of growth — that support development. Since it’s football season I’ve been looking at the coaches on the sidelines; so much of what they do is push their players to go beyond themselves.  Off the field and in the boardroom or other settings where we find ourselves it is not always so easy to find a coach, a mentor, or a friend who will and can give the kind of support needed to grow.

Growing is emotional — going beyond ourselves, becoming who we are not, is frightening.  All too often we leave out the emotional component, which requires those of us who are coaching to create an environment and relationship which allows soneone to go beyond “boosting skills and confidence” to a place where they can pretend** (see article below).  As a coach I see my role as a director and as a developmentalist — I’m there to help people experience that interplay Fred was talking about.

A big part of how we can give support is both teaching and engaging in the activity of appreciation. Here’s an excerpt from a paper by Drs. Fred Newman and Lenora Fulani called Let’s Pretend** http://bit.ly/qcjTJ4 

“Appreciation” is a sophisticated developmental skill. It is highly subjective, in that we might all have varied objects that we appreciate. Yet, appreciation itself takes a common form in the culture. And here’s what’s important. Appreciation is fundamentally performatory.

The value of coaching as I see it is to create a space for development and help people become less alienated about our human capacity to create our lives. Let’s develop!

‘Tis the season to be playful!

Random musings about the therapeutic and developmental nature of play —

This TED Talk, “The shared experience of absurdity” by Charlie Todd, the founder of Improv Everywhere, is a wonderful example of the value of pointless play. It beautifully illustrates the joy we experience connecting with others in the activity of play.

http://www.ted.com/talks/charlie_todd_the_shared_experience_of_absurdity.html

I’m fortunate to be part of a community that is always discovering how play can help people develop in many contexts — here’s a few examples:

We recently ended a very successful three week class at the East Side Institute on humor and it’s role in development. My co-teacher Mary Fridley and I were fortunate to work with a very giving and creative group of students. In our last session we split the class into two groups and they created and performed two wonderfully humorous skits. Our students created humor out of the things they listed as “not funny” — terminal illness, abuse, our irritations at people, and various difficult circumstances that we find ourselves in. Together we made discoveries about how we can use our wonderful human ability to create with others and in that activity we find humor and joy, even when we are sure there is none to be found.

On December 9th I’ll be joining my colleague Rafael Mendez at the Social Therapy Group’s workshop: Creating the Holidays You Want to Have*.  It’s part of Therapy Play: a series of therapeutic workshops of philosophical conversation and group performance work designed for emotional growth and development.  Rafael asked me to help him create an environment for participants to play with some of the things that come up for all of us during the holidays:

Even as we look forward to celebrating with friends and family, the pressure to feel how we’re “supposed” to feel, to get together with who we’re “supposed” to get together and to give gifts we often can’t afford – can make it difficult to be “merry, happy and gay.”

In preparing to coach another MBA student who told me that he has difficulty, “letting people see my personality” I’ve been thinking about how adults have to reawaken and strengthen our play muscle. This muscle, which was so strong when we were children, sadly atrophies during adulthood.  The good news is that we can all workout in the gymnasium of pointless play in our families, workplaces and frankly anywhere we find ourselves.

Improv Everywere … indeed!

* For readers in the NY Metro area here’s a link to info on the December 9th workshophttp://www.socialtherapygroup.com/events.html

Word play

My new company Career Play Inc. was created to help people use performance and play as tools to develop our lives in and outside of work.  In my quest to learn the most sophisticated and cutting edge approaches in human development, I spent the past four days attending the East Side Institute’s Social Therapy as Clinical Practice weekend intensive training.

The training helped me learn more about about the importance and value of philosophizing, exploring language as an activity, and creating the “we” vs. “me” in any situation we find ourselves in.

I look forward to sharing my learnings and development from the training in my work with clients and companies, and on this blog.  I thought it might be fun and interesting to simply post some of my notes without explanation – one way to think about this blog post is that it is WORD PLAY.

Please post any and all comments.

Everything we do is social and we are socialized to experience what we do in a privitized way.

Create a social environment that supports collective work.

See non-paradigmatically.

Language prevents us from seeing that language prevents us from seeing.

Play with words that we are using.

Environment is an activity.  The activity of buillding the environment is curative.

What it means to live life is to be creative.  

People are social performers.

Someone different from you can see who you are.

We are not consumers of culture, we are makers of culture.

Learning is a social activity.

No separation between process and product.

We live in a world that is overly private, overly consumerist and overly knowledge-based.

How can we fight against the American test-driven, diagnostic approach to schooling?

Challenge cultural norms.  

Challenge the assumption of the individual.

People grow and see new things by participating in groups they create.

For more information on social therapy and the work of the East Side Insititute I refer interested readers to these links:

http://www.eastsideinstitute.org/

http://www.socialtherapygroup.com/

http://loisholzman.org/