"Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless – like water. Now put water into a cup, it becomes the cup; you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle; you put it into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend."
Bruce Lee 李小龙
Chinese-American and Hong Kong actor and martial arts instructor (1940-1973)
In response to my recent post on flexibility, Mick Li wrote: “What are some practical things I can do to try to be more flexible and accepting? Sometimes life is tough. It's hard not to stick to the past.”
The past is ever in our minds – we learn from it, judge ourselves by past mistakes, affirm ourselves from past successes, and plan our futures according to what has happened before.
However, as Mick points out, it is hard to let go of the past.
There’s a popular Chinese saying – 计划赶不上变化 – roughly translated, plans can never keep up with change.
Applied Improvisation trains us to look forward, to be ready to handle change, and to manage those things for which we cannot prepare. Using improvisational concepts such as agreement, chivalry, acceptance, and active listening, we can implement simple techniques that can make us more flexible.
Recognize the needs and priorities of others, and prioritize them before your own when necessary.
Think from the perspective “This can work!” – even as you consider the challenges that will be faced. The founding principle of Applied Improvisation – “Yes, and…” makes this an easy.
Open your mind – flexible people do not always have to be right. In fact, celebrate the differences in thought and seek ways to collaborate instead of feeling frustrated.
Change your perspective
Don’t take things personally. If someone disagrees with you, it is not personal – just a different point of view. Flexibility is about allowing others to think differently.
Have you ever studied the Chinese character for 'to listen'?
What may it teach us about the value of 'attentive listening'?
Listen actively and carefully
Be silent – even when you KNOW you are more correct than not.
Listen without interruption
This is one of the hardest things to do, especially when listening to new ideas. In building flexibility, understand that listening to other people makes them feel respected and important.
When reacting to a new idea, consider your words carefully, and demonstrate that you understand the idea by repeating it. For example, implement the ‘yes, and’ method: “Your idea for opening this new market is refreshing and exciting, and I think we can build on it by discussing in detail how we can overcome the challenges.” ‘Yes, and’ does not necessarily imply that you agree with the idea immediately, but it does indicate that you accept and validate the speaker’s right to his point of view.
Listen to understand, not to respond
First, understand others – then make yourself understood.
Consider Bruce Lee’s statement about water. It is soft, ultimately flexible, follows the path of least resistance, does not fight or struggle, and seems always to submit to its environment. However, it is the one elemental force that can inevitably wear down mountains and create deep canyons and chasms.
Water is the ultimate ‘long term planner’ and always wins in the end. With Applied Improvisation, we can become more flexible in work and life – and flow like water.
Consultant, Crescendo Communications Consulting
Founder of Zmack improv comedy group