NewslettersSeptember 28th, 2021

PG #91: How games of improv unlock creativity

A photo of Nicole smiling.
Nicole Barling-Luke, Senior Strategic Designer
Two elderly men in suits sit at a table. The are facing a microphone which is in front of a brick wall, is illuminated by a spotlight. There is no one at the microphone.

Some friends and I started doing online improvisations in a previous lockdown. As online facilitators, we wanted to get better at adapting to Zoom meltdowns. We’d recently had a series of tech failures and found ourselves completely unable to recover from the screen share not working. To be better prepared we simulated glitches, unexpected guests and noisy interruptions. Over time, the ‘play’ of improv turned into something more important.

Improv games have long been used by designers and facilitators for their ability to spark generative and creative mindsets. They are used for trust building, to soften the analytic mind and awaken the creative mind, to simulate discomfort and recovery in the face of uncertainty, and much more.

My favourite part though, is how much of an imagination workout improv is. Particularly at a time when – I don’t know about you – but my imagination could use all the strength training it can get.

When you take contextual cues not as statements of fact, but as invitations to play, you get better at bending and flipping what appears to be true. By playing with things that might seem impossible, the range of what’s possible grows. Planting community vegetable gardens at bus stops doesn’t seem like such a wild idea when, a minute ago, you were a bumblebee hosting a union meeting in a sunflower.

And if a minute ago you were an alien having a job interview on Mars, no suggestion for how to rebuild post-covid (in a way that prioritises care and maintenance) will seem too strange.

We need to stretch the limits of what we can imagine as possible right now.

It has been said that we are experiencing a crisis of social imagination, and we’re continuing to witness the urgency of creating new futures that are inclusive, futures built on trust and futures that are ecologically healing.

If that feels too far and too hard for you today, play a (virtual) improv game and start building your imagination muscle.

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