Tuesday, September 1, 2015

How Improv Can Make You More Antifragile



Carl Jung, the great Swiss psychologist (a contemporary of Freud) coined the term synchronicity. This term is about “meaningful coincidences.” They are things that show up in our lives that are well beyond the probabilities of random chance. For instance, as was the case with Jung, a patient mentions a dream with a scarab and at that same moment, a real scarab comes into the room through an open window.

For me, I try to stay awake to synchronicities. If three or more show up in rapid succession, I sit up and take notice. I take action. Thus, this blog post is a direct result of synchronicity.


Now, Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (Incerto) coined the term Antifragility. It refers to systems that increase in capability, resilience, or robustness as a result of mistakes, faults, attacks, or failures. Antifragile systems actually get better through uneven or random inputs from the environment. The more the better (up to a point). We have been participating in a series of webinars to explore the idea of Antifragility to see how it can be applied to many disciplines (all the way from art to enterprise architecture).

During the past two webinars on Antifragility with Si Alhir and Barry Bettman, our panelists mentioned improv theater as a means towards becoming more Antifragile (see Si’s blog posts here and here). Then, after thinking about writing this post during a long afternoon walk, I received an email from Dr. Rick Hansen. Of course, he mentions improv theater in the opening paragraph.

Let’s take a look at it and dig a little deeper.

Improv is a play without scripts. The actors let the moment dictate what they will say and do. Sometimes they take their input from the audience and then create a skit on the spot based upon that input. The action develops further as they then play off each other.

To be able to do improv requires one to be alert, aware, and present in the present moment. In a word, to be able to think on your feet. These are all very Antifragile concepts because it means that people are adjusting their behavior to the environment instead of acting robotically from pre-written scripts. In a very real way, improv is the perfect training for an Antifragile life.

As it turns out, there are theater companies that now specialize in improv theater and they teach the technique in workshops and courses. One of our panelists, the amazing Elinor Slomba (checkout her blog post on Improv here) provided us some great resources on theater companies in her network that are doing this work now:


Our take away for today might be to start looking into Improv as a way to improve your ability to literally “dance in the moment” with whatever shows up, to get on the stage of life without a script, and let the moment show you how to become more Antifragile.

Here are the audio highlights from the webinar with Elinor Slomba: Antifragile by Nature: Life Lessons from Artists