Are you willing to be disturbed?

Holding hands

Working on a video trailer for my book recently reminded me of Margaret Wheatley’s beautifully written turning to one another and its short chapter entitled willing to be disturbed.

She points out how we’re not trained to admit we don’t know, and how difficult it is for us to give up our certainties. Margaret believes, as do I, that curiosity about what others believe is what we need, and that we need to be willing to admit that we’re not capable of figuring out things alone.

She recommends that we listen for what surprises us. If what you say disturbs me, she says, I must believe something contrary to you. My shock at your position exposes my own position.…If I can see my beliefs and assumptions, I can decide whether I still value them.

When I talk about attendee-driven conferences, while some people “get” the inherent possibilities, many find it hard to believe that a group of people can create a rich, optimal agenda for the event within a few hours from their initial meeting. Sustaining such disbelief is uncomfortable, and one common response is to stop listening for differences. Although I often feel frustrated when I sense that people aren’t listening in this way, I do my best to continue to listen to their truth, because that’s how I can stay open to learning from them.

Margaret concludes: I expect to be disturbed by what I hear from you. I know we don’t have to agree with each other in order to think well together. There is no need for us to be joined at the head. We are joined by our human hearts.

Are you willing to be disturbed?

Image attribution: / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Lessons from improv: Be Average!

Be average!

Thoughts triggered while rereading Patricia Ryan Madson’s delightful, straightforward, and yet profound improv wisdom.

“The poet William Stafford used to rise every morning at four and write a poem. Somebody said to him, “But surely you can’t write a good poem every day, Bill. What happens then?” “Oh,” he said, “then I lower my standards.”
—from Radical Presence by Mary Rose O’Reilley

Patricia Madson’s fifth maxim is be average. Be average? Who wants to be average?! Hear me out.

Back in January I wrote Everyone Makes Mistakes about how many of us were taught while growing up that we had to do things perfectly in order to feel good about ourselves. Eventually I discovered this doesn’t work. The emotional stress incurred in attempting the impossible task of being perfect far outweighs any small increase in the perfection of work, and, most of the time, that same stress leads to a decrease in effectiveness. But there’s more to being average than letting go of perfectionism.

Because being average is a great approach to being creative. Here’s how.

When we’re working on being creative, there’s an assumption that we must try to come up with something that’s different, something that’s “outside the box”. Not necessarily, says Patricia Madson, and she quotes Marcel Proust: “The real voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” In other words, she suggests that we look more carefully inside the box.

When I was an information technology consultant, clients would often expect a shiny new high-tech answer to their problems. Instead I usually came up with mundane but creative solutions that took best advantage of available resources. My clients were momentarily disappointed—until they heard how inexpensive my proposals would be. (Luckily for them, I just charged for my time rather than the amount of money I saved.)

Think about Magritte’s pipe that isn’t:

or Duchamp’s Fountain:

These artists expressed their creativity through household objects depicted in new ways.

One of the nice things about this kind of creativity is that we can all practice it using the gifts we already have. I find that dreaming up “way out” ideas is hard. It’s simpler for me to concentrate on seeing something familiar in a new way and be open to what pops into my consciousness.

There’s a delight in this kind of relaxed creativity. Be average and focus on the obvious. And, if nothing fantastic occurs to you right away, don’t worry.

Just lower your standards.