©2019 by David Westerlund. Photo credits: Ramona Laird, Alvin Shim, and David Westerlund.

Knowing or Growing



I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn to do it. - Pablo Picasso

It is amazing how Google/Internet/ Mobile devices have become so woven throughout our lives and our way of being in the world. We are being shaped by the unexamined beliefs that 1) all that we need to know is searchable and found on the internet, 2) we should know NOW (as in ‘this very second’). I believe we want to know, and be in a state of being in the know, because it has to do with perpetuating the myth that we are in control.


I recently picked up a fascinating book called "Performance Breakthrough: A Radical Approach to Success at Work'' by Cathy Salit, I met Cathy at the Applied Improvisation Network World Conference this August and we reconnected via Zoom this past week. She is CEO of Performance of a Lifetime, which she co-founded 22 years ago. Her team helps leaders and organizations shed old scripts and enact new possibilities.

In order to grow, Salit says, it is essential that we step into a realm of ''not knowing''. Infants grow and develop as they step into (quite literally) walking and talking, not knowing what they are doing. They stumble into language, by ''talking'' with us (goo-goo, ga-ga) , and eventually learn via our attuned responsiveness and their continued attempts despite many many failures.


"Just as the dictionary wouldn't have been much help to us then, a cognitive approach to better interpersonal skills falls short now, and in a very important way. It's simply not possible to think and analyze your way into the social activity of relationships. To get better at them, you have to perform them, with others."*


What Salit is driving at is that if we always want to be in the place of knowing what we are doing, it means that we are NOT in the place of growing, because growing requires us to step into a place of "not knowing".


"The fact is, we can all grow and develop as adults. That is, we can reinitiate the kind of creative learning and development experiences and abilities we had as children so that we can perform in new ways, do new things, and break out of habitual scripts that are holding us and our organizations back."

This brings me back to a point that I've made many times on my blog, It's imperative that we create safe spaces for each other to grow, learn, take risks, make mistakes. Without this, stagnancy reigns.


The safe space is what I call the relational infrastructure of our team. We are both contributor and beneficiary of it. The safe space isn't safe, as in - we play it safe, cautious. It's safe, as in, safe to fail, safe to take risks, safe to commit and jump in!


And in order to trust this safety we must have a visceral experience of safety being offered and accepted.


This is the power of applied improv. Even if an activity seems like it's merely a game, it's far from trivial. When we start embodying the improv tenets of being present/noticing, supporting your partner, and seeing mistakes of gifts - all in a context of play and discovery - the energy in the room begins to shift.


"I saw the humanity of my co-workers." I hear this over and over again.


When we have the experience of offering ourselves and feeling supported by our colleagues, in a workshop, our bodies have the visceral experience of joy and trust and play and creativity. This is essential to first experience that it's possible for people to truly show up.


Then as we reflect on this dynamic and how it translates to their work, we ask: what would be made possible if we lived this way of being out at work? What keeps us from supporting each other and showing up with our full selves?


This is when new possibilities emerge that transform culture.


Are you willing to step out and be in the realm of ''not knowing''? And are you willing to be supportive to those around you so that they feel it's possible to step out and risk?


Do you want to Know or Grow?




*quotes from ''Performance Breakthrough" by Cathy Salit.





#appliedimprovisation #GrowingNotKnowing



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