Pivoting into 2021
I write this on New Years Day 2021. Usually the soothsayers, commentators and ‘experts’ are making their predictions by now. This year it all feels rather quiet. I live just north of London and in recent weeks our part of the U.K has been hit hard by a new strain of the Covid virus. The atmosphere is subdued, fearful and edgy. This also happens to be day 1 of the U.K formally leaving the European Union. It feels like the tectonic plates are shifting beneath our feet. A new world is erupting through the old and buzzwords like ‘disruption’ are far too small to describe the seismic shift.
One of the words I kept hearing in 2020 was pivot. People had to pivot their work lives from office to home, from the global to the local. We had to pivot from face to face meetings to platforms like Zoom. And so it went on. I believe that in 2021 we will not only continue to pivot but have to do it at speed. The focus will not just be on WHAT we are doing but HOW we are doing it. If we lash ourselves to the mast of old practices and the way we used to do things, then we will go down with the ship. This year, even more than last year, we need to be prepared to let go of old and long established practices and shift into new ones.
It was a swelteringly hot afternoon in central London when I entered a Covent Garden basement for my improvisation class. It was a class in the Meisner technique. The following four hours were a potent mix of embarrassment, fear and liberation. One of the exercises was to stand opposite a partner and take it in turns to say what we saw when we looked at each other. I found this unnerving and exposing. The reason I have always found drama improv tough is that it dismantles all my usual ways of defending myself and controlling whats happening. Fast. Working with others to come up with new stories and scenes that take me out of my comfort zone can be disorientating and stressful. But once you let go of trying to control whats happening, it can be like flying. Ideas just pop up without planning and it becomes easier to pivot in response to whatever is happening now. There is no time to hold onto the past. Thats gone. There is no time to anticipate and plan for the future. There is only now.
If we want to do more than survive, if we want to thrive in 2021, I think we are going to need to learn to pivot, fast. The key skill to learn will be improvisation. Here are three tips from the world of improvisation to help us pivot in 2021
- Don’t block. Blocking is when you try and control whats happening because it’s not what you are used to. It kills improvisation and drains it of its energy and forward propulsion. Instead, when something unexpected happens, try rolling with it and then adding something of your own. As Beyonce said ‘If life gives you lemons, make lemonade’. The classic improv game to unblock a group is for different people to make suggestions for different physical movements and the group to reply with ‘yes lets…’ before moving into action. This is a great way to shift our instinctive tendency to block.
- Act before you think. We tend to want to have all the angles figured out before making decisions and taking action. This is often wise, however in an improvised world this could block forward momentum. It’s all about trusting your intuition and flowing with your gut feeling. This means getting used to being vulnerable and risking making mistakes. In improvisation we cannot stop and think. That is blocking. We have to offer another word, another action, another response. We keep throwing boomerangs out into the world of other people and see what comes back.
- Trust the unknown. Different people describe this in different ways. In addiction recovery this is called trusting in your higher power. Some call this God. Or you may prefer words like, the universe, intuition, spirit or ‘spidey sense’. It is the moment when we jump off the edge of our known world and trust that something, someone, other than us, that will hold us up and take us into a flow that is bigger and faster than we could ever achieve alone.
So as we pivot into 2021 let’s learn to live from a place pf improvisation and flow.