Let's finally lay status games to rest

I believe that status games still have a role to play in applied improvisation, as long as we remove the concept of "status" from them.


Status is an outdated idea that belongs to tired old hierarchies. They mostly still exist in Applied Improvisation work because facilitators like running the activities, and a lot of client organisations are keen to maintain the collusion that tired old hierarchies bring.


Status has even come to mean something quite different to Generation Y employees, more associated with the status message on Facebook, Yammer, and even Ning!


In stage work, I think we've also grown up, and status is a bit of a tired concept. Generation Y also doesn't like the simplistic and often parental feel of status in acting. This is a generation much more immersed in collaboration, co-design and emergence. There's more devised work than ever, and the director isn't a director by dint of having status, but by dint of having a specific leadership role in the collaboration process. Even the concept of servant leadership isn't about status - it is about impulse and contribution.



Status rarely makes its way back into organisations these days. It might be fun in the workshop situation but I have often experienced it and heard comments from workshop participants that many status games feel anachronistic, outdated and something akin to a Victorian Parlour game. Many organisations seeking to be more improvisational are looking to overcome traditional status and even remove it as an organisational norm. "Single status" is a rather old and primitive form of this. Status is theatre practice is more established in a creative sense. Who has status?  - is often a question that guides a director and also writers and dramaturgs. Status in human interpersonal dynamics is a useful way of exploring those dynamics but I believe its use is now being overplayed, especially for emerging generations. Generation Y is largely anti-status, but Generation Z (yes, look them up!) are often powerfully 'a-status.'


Organisational effectiveness in the digital workplace is less about personal/human status (webmasters are on the way out, to be replaced by self-governance) and more about content status, about content interacting with content, about relationships of ideas. In the physical workplace, hierarchy still persists but is currently lost (especially further down the 'ladder'), in mixed metaphors. Mentors become confused with line managers (especially in call centres), and leaders are confused with "managers". Status will often be a natural emergent property of groups attempting to achieve something together, but it is now only one of a number of NEW dynamics that us more mature facilitators would do well to pay attention to.


I think we should ditch (or at least hugely downplay)  status in our AI kitbag and play with other concepts that still allow many forms of status games to be adapted and enjoyed and used effectively.


Let's look at games that explore:

- freely defaulting to another's action and reaction

- serving others and leading others in order to allow a process to perform better

- the concept (emerging via social media and microblogging) that an idea is more important than the person stating it in a process of creating shared knowledge (content is more vital than personal source)

- holding back in order to let another give forth

- choosing and knowing when to withdraw ego and when to assert in order to a system to evolve or improve

- the concept, to be found in the work of Sanford Meisner, where reflection and mirroring guide pro-acting (this is also a kind of "service" that, in my view, transcends status)



I'd love a debate on this. I live in hope...

Views: 833


You need to be a member of The Applied Improvisation Network to add comments!

Join The Applied Improvisation Network

Comment by Cheryl Gould on November 3, 2011 at 8:47am

I wonder if it would work to put it more in the frame of  "making someone comfortable" or "making the other person feel safe"  That's actually how I see it.  When you raise your status, you create some sense of authority that people often automatically respond to. (Just finished reading Influence"The Psychology of Persuasion)    I work in a way to help people be in a collaborative space where they are working from creativity or at least rationality instead of from fear or reaction.  That's where the status work is useful.  Helps people see that they are setting off a reaction in the person they are relating to and they don't always know they are doing it.


Comment by David Sals on November 3, 2011 at 7:28am



Could you give some specific examples of exercises that you would use to introduce status as a concept and communicate the nuances described, while avoiding "higher and lower"?  I agree that simplified tools can lead people to think in terms of stereotypes, which is not optimal.  On the other hand, there's a reason that kids learn to print before they learn cursive.

Comment by Paul Levy on November 3, 2011 at 4:28am
So far there's been a robust defence of status in AI work.

We can't lay it to rest because it is everywhere - at the heart of personal and organisational relationships.

One view is that it has been too simplified or "tool-ised" by some AI practioners.

We have the view that status is more about state than simply a place on a line of hierarchy; also that it is many-faceted and more complex than just "higher and lower".

And I think that last point is where I am at in the debate so far. Personally I am swayed by the views expressed in in favour of status and so you are swaying my viewpoint! Thanks for that.

I am still in favour of laying the use of status in narrow terms of "higher and lower" with the old games that are regularly dragged out of the old AI bag to rest. I really believe we have more to offer both theatrical and organisational performers if we risk being messier with status. We do the field no favours when we dress stereotypes up as archetypes. Let's risk exploring status along many dimensions and celebrate the subtleties of the human condition as they manifest in organisational dynamics.

Status can be about power and authority, trust and mistrust, about certainty and uncertainty, about sympathy and antipathy - and much more. And all of these things are built on subtle nuances and gorgeous diversity than can be completely and tellingly overlooked if we focus too much on stereotype and simplistic games that can have immediate wow effect but actually only skim the surface of deeper, often more suppressed issues and questions.

Now, anyone else...?
Comment by Cheryl Gould on November 2, 2011 at 7:05pm

Paul et al,


I'm always interested in a good conversation about status.  I lean the direction of "you can't get rid of status" because it's in every interaction whether you  name it or not.  I, too, have seen people wide-eyed at the games where they figure out their status within minutes without talking in a group of as many as 100 and I believe bringing awareness to those kinds of interactions can only be good no matter what you call it.  I also think it's different then power and authority.


Where I get confused is when people feel very self-confident, I believe it raises their status in any situation and I have a hard time therefore separating internal sense of confidence and status.


Another point I'd like to make from a feminine perspective ;)   I spend a lot of time trying to equalize status when I'm in a high status role.  Well, I guess I would say I try and lower my status to a place slightly lower or equal to those in the room so we can truly feel like a group that I am facilitating and not "teaching"  With friends as well I'm conscious of the desire to equalize or share status.   I believe that if more people understood status, we could help people to not be so competitive.

What about trying to teach people to be conscious of trying to equalize status (whether it's really possible or not).


Love the conversation.

Comment by Paul Levy on November 2, 2011 at 2:16pm
Now, that's interesting, Jani!

Status and state.

At one level, we can treat "status" broadly as "state" and I'm at ease with that usage nowadays.

But I think "status" in the narrower sense in hierarchy is hackneyed, twee, and less useful to help explore the newer, emerging dynamics of our third millennium.

But hey, that's just my inner status on this issue ...
Comment by Jani Turku on November 2, 2011 at 1:24pm
Interesting conversation, please keep it going. We are all learning from this.

I would say that for stage actors the concept and the feel of status is natural, but it's only one small part of the whole experience. Yes, it can be separated for practice situations, but in the real world (or even scene work) it never is that simple. Like in all AI topics you can teach them well or poorly and without really understanding them thoroughly and status is one of these.

Improvisation (even the AI) is a set of skills and you just choose which ones you are practicing at the moment in an exercise. After teaching some status games or even right after them you can use the debrief to link these experiences to the real world. 

Shawn had an interesting example about having a status toward surroundings, to me it sounds more like their behaviour rather than status since the surroundings don't change. Status is between people (or animals etc) who can interact with each other and it doesn't matter what I do, the surroundings will hold the same state.
Comment by Paul Levy on November 2, 2011 at 9:38am
I'm really enjoying all the misunderstanding here - it's creating some interesting flow! WHy not try to do without the word simply 'cos it's a bit old and it might be a creative challenge to get a bit fluid with wordplay on such an old (hard) chestnut? !!!
Comment by Shawn Kinley on November 2, 2011 at 9:27am

Well... I would forward then that we simply live by different deffinitions of the term status. 

I give status to a firefighter trying to save me from a fire (my belief, faith and respect go into according him with the status he deserves. I am more likely to give more status to the firefighter who is yelling out commands then the one who is stuttering or looking uncertain.)  I take status in a room of teenagers who challenge my status. (I move more slowly to reflect a confidence that I might -or might not - actually have.  I don't smile as much - because even with the other apes and chimps we see the curling of the mouth as a softening of your status - WHICH is not a bad thing but a tool that get the results we want.   The queen does not sit on the edge of her thrown even when she is alone (no I wasn't there to see it)... She has status (perceived importance and confidence if you will ) in her environment.

There are often problems (in my opinion) with the differences in interpretation of improvisation concepts between those who come primarily from the performance world of improvisation and those who come primarily from the 'applied improvisation' arena (some of which have learned their skills from the sources in theatrical improvisation and then have defined and altered the concepts to suit the work.) 

AIN for example has lost many of their human resources (talented and intelligent people who really know their stuff but feel that the applied work has limited the concepts and theories to suit the teaching).  If people remember back to the AIN conference in Trondheim, there were heated and wonderful debates centered around one man who was in a very high position in Managerial Training in Belgium who came to the AIN to see what this "improvisation Stuff" was all about.  He had a very high status even though he did not know the work and was not a 'respected, known, or trusted' part of the community.  He confronted many people in excitng ways but he left with a feeling that the theatrical people had some exciting concepts that perhaps the 'applied' people were skewing into (what he called) a 'cult of YES'.  (and as we should all know, saying YES AND... is not a rule in improvisation or life. " No" is beneficial when it is used conciously and not reflexive from human defence behaviour. 

The 'disagreement' in some of the basic  viewpoints in Trondheim caused a seperation between the theatrical practioners and the theoretical people. 

The Bosses status might be given to him because of his position and power and peceived authority. Mother Theresa had status with the lepers probably because of the love and respect for her deeds and self sacrifice (who is to know with 100% certainty why another endows someone else with status). (and it might be beneficial to recognize the idea of endowed status versus self perceived status)

I think I am using Status very practically actually.  We can have people play with it in very direct ways.  In our discussion there is "status Challenge"  which is not a bad thing at all.  It's a good way of growth.

I like one of Keith's observations about status that our friendships are often strengthened by the play alteration of each other's status.  You see that all the time with good friends.

In old Tibetan teaching there was a beautiful example of status transference.  The teacher would stand on the hill teaching the students.  One student would stand up respectfully (he was, afterall the student) and raise a point that might contradict the teacher.  If the point was valid and held up, the teacher on the hill would smile and their position would change.  The former student would stand on the hill to speak and all would listen and endow him with true status of the role as teacher.  (Of course it wouldn't last long because the original teacher had many more points to raise and their roles would eventually revers again.).

Maybe I misunderstand you

Comment by David Sals on November 2, 2011 at 9:08am

"Yet I'm getting surer that what you are labeling as status isn't status at all."

It sounds to me like this conversation can't continue without people agreeing on a clear definition of status. Because I am less sure than you are. Firefighters have belief, faith, respect AND status. Bosses have power, sometimes authority AND status.


Here's what Webster says:

a : position or rank in relation to others <the status of a father>  
b : relative rank in a hierarchy of prestige; especially : high prestige
Dictionary.com is a little looser in its definition:
- the position of an individual in relation to another or others, especially in regard to social or professional standing 
So one of the things I think it's important to recognize is that, again, status only exists in relationship.  No one inherently has any particular status.  And you can be the President of the United States, one of the highest status positions in the world, according to Webster definition a, and still be low status by the measure of definition b, as George W demonstrated on numerous occasions.  No matter what, though, in every interaction W had status by the Dictionary.com definition.
Now, I would argue that every relationship has status built into it.  Even if it's equal status (and honestly, in the real world I don't think there is ever truly equal status, any more than it is possible to have a perfect sphere in the real world).  In fact, there are lots of different status relationships in every human relationship, depending on the circumstances.  As Shawn pointed out, you can intentionally lower your status to talk to someone, thereby raising theirs.  Status fluctuates.
Honestly, I think the issue here is really framing.  Paul wants to eliminate status because he (correct me if I'm wrong, Paul) views status as a fixed -- and therefore inaccurate measure.  "The boss is high status because she's the boss" (which we all know is sometimes true and sometimes not).  Shawn (correct me if I'm wrong, Shawn) and I want to keep status in the conversation because we see it a changeable commodity that exists in every relationship from moment to moment to varying degrees, like trust, power, respect, authority and love, which can be consciously played with to achieve one's goals, or can affect us unconsciously if we're not aware of how it works.
Comment by Paul Levy on November 2, 2011 at 7:12am
The arguments in favour of status are eloquent and at least as impassioned as my own against it!

Thanks for the reflections so far.

Yet I'm getting surer that what you are labelling as status isn't status at all.

Fire fighters in emergency situations don't have status. I think they are given belief, faith and respect.

Bosses often don't have status; they have power and sometimes authority.

Mother Theresa didn't have status; she was loved, even feared!

I think you are using status metaphysically and too generically.

I still vote for status being set into a richer melting pot and that we embrace what's coming with Generation Z.

AIN Spotlight (Latest News)...

AIN World Conference 2016 Oxford England

Priority Booking 

Register for priority booking for AIN World Conference

More info can be found on the AIN Conference Website

Time: 11 - 14 August 2016 
Location: Oxford, England
Website: http://ainconference.org

Recent Tweets

Our Books

List of books

© 2016   This site was created by Leif Hansen of Spark Interaction -Igniting Vitality, Connection & Transformation.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service