Last year, I found myself at a crossroads in my career, feeling a little stuck, unchallenged and bored for the first time in a long while. That all started to change in August (Break Out) when I learnt the benefits of ‘Play’ and how important it is in driving innovation and creativity. It builds trust, empathy, optimism, flexibility, joy in movement, resilience and exploration of the impossible.
Stepping out of a normal routine, finding novelty, being open to serendipity, enjoying the unexpected, embracing a little risk, and finding pleasure in the heightened vividness of life. These are all qualities of a state of play. Dr. Stuart Brown, National Institute of Play
I was intrigued. So I signed up to a Spontaneity course at Impro Melbourne that turned into four months of weekly meetups to play. It helped me kick start the next stage in my career, starting Harvey.
None of us really grow up. All we ever do is learn how to behave in public. - Keith Johnston
This experience taught me many things but the most impactful for me - was to embrace and celebrate 'failure' like it was a positive thing (especially coming from a ‘perfectionist’ background). Whether we realise it or not, education/ society/ culture has taught us to suppress spontaneity, I learnt how to bring it out.
Signing up to improv, plus committing the time and money was way out of my comfort zone and I tried to rationalise if it was a good decision (like I often do), but then I thought, ‘screw it! I’ll just give it a go!’. And before I knew it - I was on stage performing in front of friends, family and strangers and having a good time being silly.
In improv we'd play games or act out scenes where there is ZERO opportunity to plan or think ahead, which goes against everything of my natural (or perhaps conditioned) self. It gave me the courage to step out into the unknown - not knowing what my partner would say or do, but dealing with it when it comes and going with my gut.
Go with the flow. Make a mistake and be cool with it. Get out of your head. Talk less and do more.
I applied this to starting Harvey - rather than spending ages over thinking, over planning, or waiting for everything to be ‘perfect’ to start, I just started. I started with offering one pro bono project, then another, then my first paid project… and now Harvey is going better than I could've imagined.
Show up and be present
This was a big one for me - I was in a season with a lot of anxious thoughts, a lot of processing and confusion. Also, because my mind runs at a hundred miles an hour, I’d be thinking about anything from meal planning, to worrying if I'll look stupid in the next activity, to work, to what social post I’ll do about this very moment (guilty 😳).
Every week in my 3 hour session, I was forced to fully be there. Because if you miss an instruction or not actively listen to your partner - you’ll be lost (and not like that was an issue since we’re cool with messing up), but it was dishonouring to the people around me. When we commit to something, people deserve all of us.
At the end of every night of Improv - I loved the feeling of being totally absorbed and lost in what I just did and my anxious thoughts were calm.
Yes and…. make others look good.
We played activities to make us aware when we're blocking vs building on partner’s actions. The number 1 rule for improv is about making your partner look good, letting them have a good time. So avoid replying with ‘no’ or ‘but’. Instead, reply with positivity, open body language and 'yes and' to build on their ideas. Generally a good principal to live by… putting others before yourself.
I never really got sarcasm and I'd often shut my poor husband down by taking things literally. Now I build on his silliness mostly (well, maybe 50% of the time) ;)
I absolutely loved getting out of my bubble to meet new people I may never cross paths with otherwise. My class was made up of people from 18-70 years old and different walks of life from Spain to Wodonga from stay-at-home mums, disability care workers, ex-latin dance champions, artists and authors. Arguably, we had nothing in common, but that didn’t matter - we embraced spontaneity together and we laughed so hard until we cried.
We created a safe space for failure, looking ‘stupid’, saying accidental inappropriate things when the spontaneity took over and created some pretty wild stories with our imagination.
Big Innovation Lives Right On The Edge Of Ridiculous Ideas - Brendan Boyle, IDEO
This experience gave me the skills and confidence to step out and start Harvey...
- Taking a risk and stepping out in the unknown
- Embracing 'failure'
- Approaching clients with empathy and my full self
- Building on my business partner and making him look good ;)
It’s all still a work in progress to remember and apply these principles on a daily basis. But I hope reading this has encouraged you to embrace your inner child.
Stay Playful Dara Simkin, Project Play
Ps. Break Out (the conference that started it all for me) is back again this August. I'll be there for sure!