Improv Technique: Riff
We talked about the verticality of building on ideas. How do we generate more ideas in a more horizontal sense? I know I'm using kind of odd terms in the context of ideas, but just see where we're going. Brainstorming by its nature is a group of people coming together to solve a problem. The problem with most brainstorming environments is they really do truly believe that their job is to solve the problem, that their job is to go into that room, come up with a solution, and then leave that room. That's really not what effective brainstorming is. Effective brainstorming doesn't aim to solve the problem, it aims to generate possibilities. You'll solve the problem later. But if you go into a room, and your designation is to solve the problem in its entirety, you're going to struggle. Most of the time what we do is we find very expected ideas in those environments. Because we only can take what we've already experienced as solutions to say that I know that this works. Truly effective brain...
storming will look for opportunities to generate possibilities of ideas, to germs of ideas, that somebody else can come in afterwards and start to put ideas together and form them to actually solve the problem. Generating possibilities is a very difficult thing for us to do as humans, because we want to solve problems in their entirety. We have this desire to be very complete in our ideation, so generating possibilties is really a matter of control. Most of us want to control the environment. You guys have already experienced it when we had our warm-up exercises. You're looking for ways that you can control the environment better, and that's very human. When you start going through improv training, one of the first things they talk about is the ability for you to let go of control, To lose control, to not try to control situations. You'll see in certain scenes that are played out that one person just barrel rolls the other person. They're going down their path, and they're going to do this thing no matter they say, they're going to keep going down their path. That's an act of control, they want to try to gain control. If you get into an environment where you can turn on and off the act of control, you're gonna find that your ideation improves immediately, and it improves immensely. And so we're gonna practice a little bit of this art of letting go of control through an exercise. I'm gonna force you guys to let go of the idea of control, a lot like we did at the beginning of this, in our warm-up exercise. We're gonna use a scenerio that you guys are gonna play out, and you'll see what happens through this scenerio, k? We're gonna play a game called alphabet. Now, the set up for this is you guys are gonna be in two-person groups. So you two, and you two. You're just working together, and you guys are working together. I'm gonna set up a scenerio with which you guys are interacting. Here's your scenerio: You just sat down next to each other on a plane, and you're strangers. That's the scenerio, k? You just sat down together on a plane, strangers on a plane, and you're gonna strike up a conversation. But, the nature of improv is to not only to set up a scene for you guys to play up, but also to set up the rules and restrictions of the game, and there are rules and restrictions to this game. You guys are gonna have a conversation with each other, one sentence at a time. Back and forth, alternating sentences. But each sentence has to start with an alternating letter of the alphabet. Here's how it's going to work: One of you has to decide who's gonna go first, so decide in your group who's gonna be first. Who's gonna go first, for each of you? Decide right now, k you'll go first, and you'll go first. You're the letter 'A.' I'm gonna give you the opening of your conversation. There is the opening of your conversation: 'Are you flying alone today?' You'll notice that sentence begins with an 'A'. So, you'll say that sentence to your partner to strike up a conversation. Your partner will then respond, but their sentence has to begin with the letter 'B,' and then back to you. Your sentence has to begin with the letter 'C' 'D', 'E', 'F', 'G', you have a conversation all the way through the alphabet. Your goal is to get to 'Z.' Cool? When you get to 'Z' the conversation is over. (laughing from crowd) You guys ready? Conversation, one sentence at a time, alphabet, ready, go!
Are you flying alone today?
Are you flying alone today?
Cuz, no one else wanted to come?
I love 'cuz'
Do I really need a reason?
Everybody has a reason.
Eventually, when this plane lands this conversation will be over.
Good God, man! Please don't be rude to me, please don't be rude to me.
How 'bout we start over?
How's the day going?
Initially, it was going good, and then I just got caught up in this stupid conversation on my flight.
Jeez, sounds awful.
Oh my god.
So much thinking, keep going, keep going!
Kids, you got kids?
Great, me too, me too.
Nora, Thomas, Sam, and Jonas, hands are so full.
Jonas, that's nice.
Overjoyed you just, you must be overjoyed with such a handful of little lovelies. Are you not?
People are hard, even kids.
Question is, who's more difficult?
Kids are humans.
Robert's probably the most difficult. That's my husband.
That's good, that's really good.
Truth! Hashtag truth.
Ultimately I think the end goal is to just, you know, sever all ties with the kids and the money and the house and good riddance.
Vows, you know you make vows and you gotta stick by them and, you know, the good the bad the ugly, and in the end you find happy.
Work! It's a full time job, is what it is.
Like how his response was "yup!"
Um. It's a zoo!
Ah, zoo, it's a zoo. It's a zoo, life's a zoo.
Xerox copies of the alphabet are pretty helpful.
Yeah they are.
Zest, for no reason.
Well good job, well good job! I know it's a difficult thing. The beauty of this exercise, by the way, is I love watching the way that conversations move. Like, you guys used a lot of, like slang, or more conversational tones. You didn't start off full complete sentences with words, you just used a word as a trigger for something else. Like, you would use, you would say a word like 'Work! It's full time work.' You use the word 'work' because it starts with a 'W' as the leader into a sentence of something else, so that was very clever. And then you guys, you were struggling with one letter, and you jumped in, and that was great improv. That was you allowing the scene to kind of play out. But I guarantee you, where you ended up was nowhere near where you thought this was going when this started, did you? Like it's that most likely the conversation you had at the end isn't anywhere near the conversation you had at the beginning. Both of the conversations, ironically, were a little bit contentious at the beginning. There was a little bit of like, you were almost like 'Hey, just leave me alone,' Like, you were just like, 'I'm just sitting here, mind my own business, what's going on?' And somewhere along the line, you guys moved off into a new direction. Cuz somebody at some point was like, 'Myeh, you know, I don't know what to say here, so I'm gonna move it off into this direction, and then keep going.' Once you're doing this, you've given up control. Now I gave you a certain semblance of control when I gave you that first sentence. That's your first control. Your partner, who starts with a 'B,' I guarantee you, started planning. Cuz you know what this question's gonna be, So you start planning what the 'B' is going to be. But the first person can't plan 'C' yet, cuz just still focusing here, right, so right around 'C' and 'D' is when you started to lose control. And you needed them to say something, you needed a hook to grab a hold of, and then where you ended up going was some place completely different. That's what improv teaches us, is it teaches us how to riff. If there's anything that we've learned from improvisation in the context of music and jazz, is the ability for them to riff off of one another. It's that there's no song that has a beginning and an end that doesn't necessarily have a melody or a harmony, it's just a series of notes that then bounces back and forth, and I'm gonna react to whatever you give me, in front of me, and then you react to what I give you, and it allows us to basically take group steps toward something that we have no idea where it's going. Inside of the context of brainstorming, most of us want control, most of us will enter into group ideation sessions kind of knowing where we're going. We kind of know what we're gonna leave here with, we're just hoping to find something interesting about it. In those instances, it's because you have and want control, but when you give up control, look at the amazing place you ended up going. There were some really amazing things. Half of your conversation, you probably can't even remember. You just remember general areas, like you were mad, and then everything was fine, and then we started talking about family, I have no idea how. And in those worlds you want to be in an environment that gives up that control, so that you can find places that you had no idea existed until you guys went together. And you can't do it alone, because the nature of your head means that you have control, you know what's coming next. You have to be able to react to one another. From an improv standpoint, it teaches us how to riff better. It teaches us how to listen for certain points, like you would ask the question, "What happens when you get stuck?" Well when you get stuck, you're listening for something. You know often times, when we're in, when we're trying to generate ideas with other people, and we've all had these experiences, we're trying to generate ideas with other people, and the energy in the room kind of dips, and we're like, staring at each other, and you're looking back up at the screen with the problem you're trying to solve, and you pull out your phone like, what you're doing is you're seeking muse, you're looking for a hook, you're looking for some sort of, something to grab a hold of so that you can dovetail that into more. And the beauty of improv is that you have someone else there to do that for you. So all you have to do is listen. Listen for the threads of what's happening here, listen for where they could possibly go, and in those words and in those phrases and concepts, you can grab a hold of something and have another strain, almost like ink bleeding off of a piece of paper. It's going to take a path that's uniquely its own. You have to allow that to happen, you can't control that From an improv standpoint, it'll teach us to riff in that way, it'll teach us to listen to each other and be able to react to each other, to find places that we couldn't find otherwise.