Those darned people who disagree with your sensible views

There are complex things happening in the world right now, but I’m not going to talk about them – except maybe extremely tangentially – instead, let’s talk a bit about what mindset works best when improvising or innovating.

The act of improvising is that of making a story appear out of nothing, just as the act of innovating is that of making an idea into a reality. At first, we are all cautious. We take little steps, or we cling to what we already know, refusing anything that breaks new ground. Frustrating! The only way you can advance is if you are prepared for things to go a bit haywire. Hence one of the loudest, clearest messages in improvisation is: don’t act out of fear.

Now, I’m about to tell you something which isn’t true.

Here it comes.

The world is made up of two types of people. There are ones like you and me: we challenge old ways of thinking, we’re excited by uncertainty, we feel that diversity makes us stronger. Let’s call ourselves The Brave.

Then there are the other sort of people, who don’t like change. They’re suspicious of new ideas, wary of newcomers, and they don’t like complexity. They want structure. Let’s call them The Cautious.

Oh, sweet delicious lie! It’s tempting to see the world in that way, isn’t it? Because you can get frustrated at The Cautious, who want to turn the clock back to 1955, or at the least, who resist moving into the (admittedly unpredictable) future. Surely The Cautious are the reason we don’t have flying cars and 100% clean energy!

I'm not cautious, I'm just visiting

But the truth is that we are all Cautious at one time or another. Over one issue or another. And at other times we are The Brave.* We become Cautious when we feel overwhelmed: threatened and helpless in the face of that threat. You may feel equipped to deal with a physical threat right in front of you, but how do you fight an invisible, nebulous threat, like “change” – especially change that you didn’t ask for?

* For example, I’m quite progressive on social issues, but ask me to eat unfamiliar seafood and I’m all like, “how many tentacles/mouths/radulators does it have???”

Many of us do it by imposing structure, by trying to make a complicated world smaller. Structure isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but creating systems or making choices out of fear is definitely A Bad Thing. One symptom of fear is to take a nebulous idea and make it into a specific person or people, to blame them for whatever is going wrong, to simplify down to an “us versus them” story. Wouldn’t it be better to face change bravely, to help shape it? Change comes, whether we embrace it or run from it.

"Have courage!"

Of course, telling someone “just be brave” is as useless as saying, “try really hard to relax” so let’s not do that. Instead, let me come back to the idea that it’s natural to feel cautious when you believe you are threatened or helpless. There’s no denying that sometimes we are under threat, or we are helpless, and that is a terrible thing. It is also a terrible thing to see threats where there are no threats.

Invisible threats are often presented to us as stories, particularly in the news, or in politics, because stories are powerful. Some stories try to tell me that the world is a threatening place, or exaggerate my helplessness. Stories like that are trying to make me fearful, maybe even to control my choices.

But it’s my brain! I decide what a story means to me. Stories of threats forewarn us and forearm us. Stories of complexity reveal the world to be a wonderful place. And stories of helplessness challenge us to prove them wrong.

Much love and safety to you all,