Most improvisation I have encountered in the applied field is of a relative kind - relative, that is, to the planned, mapped-out-ahead, unspontaneous states of many organisational working practices.  In these states, we plan ahead, decide what we are going to say using "scripts" and "cue cards", we think ahead, we have made a decision and then we simply operate that decision in action. Improvisation here is seen as a more "free" state, more playful, less planned.


In most cases, an improvisation game then involves trying to get as close to the moment as possible. So, for example, a 'comedy improv' scene will be quick-paced, and the improviser will be making decisions a few seconds ahead, theyll be in reactive "yes, and" mode, taking cues from others and this will feel (and will indeed be) very improvisational - much more spontaneous than usual. It will be  playful, often innovative, and experienced and named as "improvisation". We'll refer to it as being "much more in the moment" and, indeed, sometimes we'll shock ourselves as we actually are so "present" that we speak something akin to an act of genius or with a voice that we don't recognise as our own.


I would like to call this relative state improvisation where we come very close to being fully "present", in the moment, but are usually in fact, in a state of relativity - in relation to less spontaneous states. Essentially, a warm day is a hot day to an eskimo!


There's plenty to value in this. It's freeing up, liberating and energising. But it isn't what I'd like to refer to as pure state improvisation.


In pure state improvisation, even thinking a millionth of a second ahead isn't pure. Pure state improvisation - true presence, is a rare state, and I am not sure we can ever achieve it by trying to come closer and closer to it using relative state improvisation. Other methods are necessary and it may even be a state that defies method.


Pure state improvisation tends to "come up on" us, especially if we are in a particular inner (and sometimes outer) space. We can't grab hold of it - it slips out of that grasp like water through fingers.


Pure state improvisation is a "beingness" though it doesn't, in my view, have to be self-less as suggested in some eastern practices. Pure state improvisation can be a kind of "speaking in tongues" but can also be a kind of "do-being". The ego does have to free itself up from mundane preoccupation, but it can be possible to create a dual, simultaneous process of both "doing" and "being aware of doing". Directing onself in the moment tends to involve a surrender to flow and sense that the pure state has a kind of grace to it, that it is somehow "given". It tends to come when motive coincides with outer needs of a situation and there are many examples of it in disaster situations where someone achieves something "superhuman", a state that crumbles as soon as they realise it in their heads too well!


In pure state improvisation we can almost feel "overshadowed", in a trance. Ideas "come through" us. From where? And do we have to be passive? 


I think it is possible (and perhaps it wasn't always so) to overshadow ourselves. This suggests a kind of "higher" aspect of our self - individual to us - the calmer "watcher", the "director" which has a helicopter view, that can bring our usually more "planner" self into a more calm, but still active, present state. Our genius awakens, and our improvisation can be initially strange to us, but often surprises us with its originality and even genius.


I believe that it is the role of applied improvisers to seek ways to facilitate at least an attempt at pure state improvisation. Relative state improvisation has enough value and thrill to keep you in clients for a life time. But our world is crying out for authentically new ideas and innovation. Pure state innovation is also of vital importance if we want to "apply" Improvisation".


Thoughts and reflections welcome.


Paul Levy

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Replies to This Discussion

Hi Paul, thanks for this. 

I'm not convinced that this "pure state improv" is the ultimate goal. Where does context fit in? How can these potentially genius ideas be applied and how can their genius be recognized at all? Does there necessarily have to be a third eye?

Love to hear your thoughts on this.


Jessi Linn

Hi Jessi

For me pure state improvisation is a flow state specifically suited to:

- deep community building
- unblocking
- exploring emergence and originality (I've used in in radical product innovation and Organisational redesign)
- conflict resolution

It isn't so much a goal as an alternative improvisational state.

Yes, it has metaphysical qualities and is messier for a facilitator to deal with, but allows for relative state impro as well.

It's very good for vision building, and looking at core values.

It's transcends both left and right brain approaches and even goes beyond yes, and... Because it transcends polarity of yes and no.

It's also irritating because it is often trans-rational.

It's mystery, and so what? What's wrong with mystery ?

Why can't impro be a form, not only of invention, but also revelation?

I love it. It makes me feel tiny. It makes me feel huge. And my clients often love it - especially starched shirt managers!


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