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Status is an outdated idea that belongs to tired old hierarchies.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I have often experienced it and heard comments from workshop participants that many status games feel anachronistic, outdated and something akin to a Victorian Parlour game.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: 515

Tags: controversial, status, view

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 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 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 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 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 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 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 Paul Levy on November 5, 2011 at 6:20am

So, some specific examples.


Very much in line with the broader use of the word status to mean "state" rather than just a polarity of higher-lower, there are numerous activities one can use. It is simply a matter of exploring other dimensions and polarities alongside, or even in place of simplistic "higher" and "lower". For example:


In this status situation...

... who has the more and less attention at any given time?

... who is most/least trusted?

... who is being most charismatic?

... where does the balance of energy feel highest or lowest in the situation?

... what is the status of resources/experience/skill/motivation in the situation?

... where is most urgency or least urgency manifesting?

... who has most knowledge/information but least experience/skill and vice versa?

... where is there most or least potential to progress or regress a situation?

... where are the points of immobility and paralysis in the situation?

... where is thinking or behaviour past, present or future dominated?

... who commands most or least respect?


I am sure there are many more. I believe many status games could be (and are being) adapted to reflect these different and often more subtle nuances in a situation and relationship state/status.


I also explore state/status dynamics in both participants AND facilitators in the following activities/exercises. Here are the links:


This one looks at the status of relative energy dynamics and balance:



And this one often exposes stereotyped higher-lower status issues but then lets you explore different status dynamics. It plays with physical manifestations of higher and lower but then allows the reflection and experimentation to become more complex and diverse:




And this one again allows higher-lower status to emerge but also allows an exploration of a broader set of status relationships as we really get into the relative energy dynamics, power and influence dynamics of relationships and organisational settings:




The opportunity here is to allow people to experience the deeper reality of interpersonal and organisational dynamics not just as linear "higher and lower" polarities but as constellations set along timelines, in space, and across emotional landscapes. I believe that Generations Y and Z are developing newer forms of relating in life and work, of which higher-lower status is playing a smaller part. Interestingly, in social media, what is often labelled as "higher" often simply means "further" (e.g. more twitter followers). Yet further is very different from higher. In some social media environments, people who have travelled "further" find the notion of "higher", unreal. Further simply means it puts one in a position to help or influence, not from a higher place, but from a different place. The right to simply be different sits outside of the higher-lower polarity.


As ever, comments welcome.


As ever, comments welcome.

Comment by Rich Cox on November 8, 2011 at 5:27pm

I appreciate the dramatic value of a statement like "let's kill status" or "let's burn the ship" as a way of inspiring others to engage.


The way I use the exercises, principles and words around this are based on these defintions:


Power - the ability to influence others

Authority - an organizationally ordained control of resources

Status - a dynamic condition of a relationship

Social Status - a ranking of worth, value or importance

Hierarchy - in organizational dynamics has more to do with authority, and may correlate with power or status, but is not a necessary condition or causal.

Higher/lower status - are groupings of behaviors which has some of its roots in primate studies.

Through genetics and socialization there are a set of rules by which we all operate and we can use (or rather can not avoid) in our communication. They simply exist and change with culture, gender, and other factors that effect social behavior.


Higher/lower status does not contain a value judgement such as good/bad - they are contextual and have appropriate uses as do raising and lowering.


Within improvisation and Applied Improv there are great tools to explore, become aware of, practice, read, interpret, and make conscious choices about status. Then, using it can have an effect on our relationships, interactions, and communication. You can choose to use it for good or for evil.


You can't "not use" status as this is defined - it's a characterization of interaction. You could choose to not use exercises that explore it. I think you should use the tools that you find valuable.


As to the salad. My interpretation is that your other principles are starters like bacon wrapped scallops. Yummy to have. Can be before or after salad. Can be in place of a salad. It depends on what the meal is whether you have either, both, or none.


Why should we have to put anything aside to explore something else?


I'm happy to discuss or share my perspective, but am not really interested in debating or convincing you or anyone else.


I believe that YOU should lay status to rest. I believe that I should use it in the ways I find helpful.


Interesting points by several  - thanks to all for the discussion and to you Paul for enticing us and managing the conversation.

Comment by Paul Levy on November 8, 2011 at 11:21pm
So Rich is saying (if I read him correctly) that status is a valuable concept when it is contextually appropriate. I'd agree with that.

It shoud never be a generic assumption nor used dogmatically ( and I think it often is).

And I thoroughly agree it would be dogmatic to make not using exercises that explore status some kind of rule. But then again, it's equally dogmatic to use it as a rule if context is key.


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

Join The Applied Improvisation Network

Welcome to the AIN!

If you're new to this site or the concept of Applied Improv, you should probably start by first visiting this FAQ page to get your basic questions answered. Please see this guide for tips on how to use the AIN site. You can also watch video tutorials on using this site.

AIN Spotlight (Latest News)...

AIN 2014 Conference Austin, Texas
November 6-9

Register and get more info

Recent Tweets

AIN External Website

We have created and launched a new website to promote Applied Improvisation to prospective clients - AppliedImprov.com

As you know, we already have a great website for talking to each other: this new site is for us to talk to the world, letting people know the value that AI practitioners can bring to organisations and communities, as trainers, facilitators and inspirers of creativity. It also has a sensational new logo, thanks to our very own Bård Brænde.

Please take a look here, let us know how to improve the site, and recommend it to any potential clients you can think of.  If you’d like to be listed on the site as a Practitioner, then check out the sign-up process on the discussion linked to this email here.

© 2014   This site was created by Leif Hansen of Spark Interaction -Igniting Vitality, Connection & Transformation.

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service