General thoughts

The Purposeful Infinite and Vice Versa

I’ve been trying my hand at improvisational comedy of late. From being a fan of London’s famous Comedy Store, I simply couldn’t resist taking one of the 20 places at their 5-week masterclass. Although I didn’t know what to expect, the insights were even more profound than I thought possible. We started with learning the principles of improv. One could think that the first rule could be to ‘think of something funny and say something funny’, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In contrast, the first rule is actually to listen (and none of the other rules are anything to do with ‘being funny’).

My overarching realisation is that improv comedy is more about generosity, non-premeditation and acceptance than anything else. As an example, say there are two people in a sketch, one starts with what’s called an ‘offer’: “Good morning Doctor” and the other can respond in any way they like. If the receiver of the offer wasn’t being tremendously accepting or generous, they could respond with what’s known as a ‘block’, for example, “I’m not a Doctor”. A far more accepting and generous response could be “Is it morning already…my goodness I’ve worked through the night”. This isn’t ‘funny’ in itself, but that’s not the point, what’s now happened is that the receiver as returned an offer back, which can then be built upon in any number of ways.

During this part of the course introduction, we then found out that a block could actually be an offer if it were re-framed in our heads. The “I’m not a doctor” line could either be seen as limiting the potential, but could equally be taken as an offer for a build such as “Good, because I’m not really a nurse”. The key insight is that a block or an offer is largely based on the player’s perception rather than the specific words used.

This is true in comedy as in life and business.

However, I believe the learning here isn’t just about re-framing, it’s about why we would re-frame a challenge as an opportunity at all? What would inspire us to appreciate yet disregard a potential block, then manufacture an offer out of it?

The answer, in my opinion, is purpose. Identifying and utilising our purpose.

As I write in my bestseller, Powered By Change, the importance of purpose is paramount. Not just starting with ‘why’, but architecting the entire reason of doing what we do, so anything that is presented to us can be viewed and used without restriction. What I’ve found is that when things are seen as blocks, it is not the thing itself that is blocking, it is our own clarity of purpose and perception of possibility that may not be solidly in place. Essentially, we decide whether things are blocking us rather than things (or other people) deciding what will block us.

This is a critical distinction and worthy of a re-read or pause. I’ve found this change of perspective highly useful when dealing with all manner of issues in my life.

The key takeaways are:

1. From one perspective, challenging circumstances can be interpreted as being a block to what we would like to happen, but from another, challenging circumstances are a great chance of reset and evolution.

2. In re-framing blocks to opportunities, we can grow new avenues that could present even better outcomes.

3. Either way, you choose.

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