Improvising with models

Improvising with models

In my search for business models that describe improvisation as a part of leadership I stumbled upon a lot of traditional models that describe the (learning)cycle of something, and most of the time they are visualized in the form of a U or a circle. For example: Gestalt Psychology (Contact), Kubler-Ross (acceptance), Situational Leadership (leadership), Tuckman (team development), Greiner (organization life cycle), Theory U (emergent processes), etc. etc.

What are the similarities besides the shape? Are the scientist creative in content? In my opinion they all describe the same phenomena, but projected on a different subjects. You could say that there are four phases in a learning cycle:

  • Control: We are trying to control our environment in the way we are used that things should go. We don’t want to learn, and keep things familiar. Familiar is nice.
  • Struggle: We encounter differences with our environment, and “fight” with these because we want that we could continue in the way that we were used to. We create rules to keep things organized and clear.
  • Letting go: We let our control go and open for what is really needed. We develop new ways of looking at things. There is no need to control the situation any more, because the old way of doing things doesn’t work anymore for you.
  • New paradigm & action: We step into the world with our new way of looking in things, and interact in our new way (the beginning of a new pattern, that we love to control again…)

You could say that these are in some way laws of nature. We always try to protect what we are used to, what keeps us in a safe area. You are safe when your life is not threatened. But safeness could also be defined as keeping things familiar so we know what we can expect in the future. Even a rotten situation can give a sense of safety because we now what is coming. So keeping things safe can be illogical. Our biological persona is in control even in situations that leaving the comfort zone is needed.

Improvisation and safety
Biological safety isn’t an issue in most learning environments because there are no life threatening situations. There are of course unpleasant situations, but that is something different. We like to feel comfortable, and our ego doesn’t like to be hurt. So maybe safety in learning situations is about keeping us from ego threatening situations.

What can the paradigm of improvisation learn us about safety? First of all it makes a switch from ego driven to eco driven acting. So don’t make yourself so important, focus on the process. It’s not all about you. And at the same time, it’s not about the other either. It’s about the process where your both part of. Improvisation describes the necessity of doing things and being aware of yourself and your environment at the same time. An improviser doesn’t talk about safety, he will act to make it safe. From “it’s not safe here” to “let’s do this to make things better”. Never try to keep the situation under control but always keep in contact with your environment. What strikes me is that participants that can adapt to the environment never mention safety, because it isn’t an issue for them. They feel confident that they can add in what is needed in the system. They accept what is there, and add what they think in needed. Fear is the only emotion that disappears when you go into it.

Improvising with models
So, how could a model about improvisation look like when we use existing models.

When looking at Theory U you could say that we start with action in stead of ending with it. How can you really experience if you don’t participate by doing something (0.1)? Or even better, dan we let action and awareness take place at the same moment (0.2).

Theory U - impro

Regarding Situational Leadership (Hersey & Blanchard) we could add a management style: holding the space. This is giving space to employees to improvise, which can give possibilities to develop new best practices. The difference with delegating is that we do not describe in projectplans how the process will go and where it will end. There is of course a higher goal, like making the IT system finally work.

SL - impro

We could do this with all models of course, but the central idea is that we add a situation that is about action and awareness, creativity and intuition, inner safeness and exploring.

More models?
My “new” models are just examples for what is possible. My experience is that by playing with existing models it becomes more clear for myself where business improvisation is all about. I’m of course curious what you would add to these of other models in the “Yes, and…” mindset of improvisation.

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