Should we fire the icebreaker?

Paul Z Jackson, President of the Applied Improvisation Network, recently wrote about a great discussion of icebreakers that’s been running for four years on the AIN website:

There’s a fascinating discussion on our website about whether to call activities with which we begin workshops ‘icebreakers’, ‘energizers’, warm-ups’ or something else.  Whatever we call them carries assumptions – such as assuming there is ice in the room that needs to be broken.

Paul Levy suggested we might name such activities as ‘zoning-in’ or ‘confidence builders’.  As improvisers, we take collaboration and co-construction seriously, and so we can expect our assumptions to have a significant impact on what happens.  If we start a conversation in which people look for ‘ice’ or ‘resistance’ or other concepts which may prove unhelpful, we’ll assuredly find them.

If we start a conversation in which people look for ‘best hopes’, ‘useful resources’, ‘interesting similarities and differences with each other’, then we’ll find those.  It’s a simple application of ‘yes… and’, where our offer is for constructive and useful qualities that will serve the session well.
—Paul Z Jackson, President, Applied Improvisation Network

The whole discussion is well worth reading. Some of the participants make the case that perhaps naming whatever we do at the open of an event is best avoided, and I’m sympathetic to that. When we name something we often end up unwittingly restricting its power and influence. And yet, when marketing what we do we sometimes need to provide a name, something that is meaningful to a potential client. It’s a quandary. But a good one to have.

Should we fire the icebreaker? What do you think?

Photo attribution: Flickr user by_invisiblekid

  • it should just be part of the program and enhance the content you already have planned. Too often “icebreakers” are an unconnected piece of the conference and have NO connection to the purpose of the workshop. Anything you do should be connected to the intent and purpose of the workshop. If you cannot justify it, then don’t do it. 

    • No disagreement with you Mike about the importance of using relevant icebreakers. The post was more about the term “icebreaker” itself, as what we call things often affects how we view their purpose.