I would like in this dissertation to explore the concept of improvisation both an ability in life and in the coaching process
Inspiring is the book of the musician Ibrahim Maalouf (I.M), published in 2022 (edition Equateur Mister Ibé).
In that book Ibrahim Maalouf consider the improvisation as a philosophy, a way of like applicable in his musical projects.
His life was also a support for improvisation (wars, exiles, etc ..)
Let’s see how it can benefit in the journey of each of us, of our clients as a coach
How to interpret what is improvisation?
The roots of the word “improvisation” can be traced back to Latin:
1. “im-” which is a prefix meaning “not” or “without.”
2. “provisus” which is the past participle of “providere,” meaning “to foresee” or “to provide.”
So, the word “improvisation” essentially means “the act or process of not providing or foreseeing beforehand” or “doing something without prior planning or preparation.”
Not mastering a music instrument makes each played note an adventure
Each idea can generate an infinity of others
No written way, no predefined sound
The unforeseen is the norm
Origin, biology and environment:
Childhood is the improvisation time, natural .. driven by sensations, intuition, imagination
No (low) external constraints (social codes, shyness ..)
No internal limitation like fear, boredom, risk …
Improvisation is daring, courage, boldness, opportunism, experimentation
As an adult, improvisation is a bridge to find again our childhood. A way to to reconnect with all that skills.
Nature provides an harmony, rhythm, pulsation, melodies, colors, cycles which are feeding our improvisation ability .. our heart is the first to have a pulse … with a possible synchronization with the world, the others. Improvisation is a temptation to look for this common pulsation, shared cycles, natural harmony. Keeping a minimum distance at the beginning with the intellect part of our brain
Body and mind are complementary and work together.
Breathing is a good benchmark when it comes to biology and improvisation. Breathing has 2 phases:
Inspiration: to nourish ourselves, to enrich ourselves intellectually, emotionally, open our mind to others, other arts, disciplines. Fundamental in the creation part, for the action. It is a preparation phase too: to acquire a minimum of technique, knowledge, general culture
Expiration: eject tensions, negative emotions, calm down nervous system, lighten our heart. Process of expression of what we have inside us.
But breathing, even if so natural, is not well done by many people. Negative factors are there … stress, passion, fear, desire, social pressure … pushing us outside our body. Same for improvisation despite increasing needs for .. unexpected and complex crisis, strong difficulties, etc …
The feeling of freedom, creativity allow to eject easier, through a transformation process, the emotions (negative sometime)
Brain: improvisation is a strong cure against the rigidity of our brain, of all our body. Able the ability for expression, free our emotions, and our mind agility. It is an opening, a stimulation … and not a jail, a passive way to see the world
Agility and nuance, on top of breath and strength (muscle) .. a good balance between freedom and social codes (nuance)
Improvisation and mindset:
To keep always close to us some blank pages to get improvisation’s territories
To keep an eye outside the ecosystem we are in ..
Knowing one’s worth, what one wants, and where one is going.
To use the loudspeaker of our soul.
Sometimes a way built on necessity can become a school of freedom. Accidents during our life are opportunities of transformation.
Improvisation can be considered as a double move: reaction and action, short term and emergency event but an asset. Actor of our life but not victim.
Both spiritual and intellectual independence
Improvisation is a movement towards what is most sincere with oneself. Thus, it gives the opportunity sometime to find in oneself a new skill, talent, a new gem… a rebirth.
Something that frees the chains of being human, coded and programmed to exist without being.
To be an improvisator is the possibility to create an environment that reflects who I am, in the one I am happy.
In the process of improvisation important is to take into account the role of the memory (through the senses also). To find a good distance with oneself useful for the creativity is not so easy.
To invent is to think sideways. Is it not a mission of a coach to help the client to think out of the box ?
But generally in our society we expect people to be in the box, from school to companies etc .. it is a global approach not taking into account the singularities of each of us. Notification, ranking, comparison, classification … uniformization … submission … conformism … all these words are not anymore adapted in our today’s world full of unexpected aspects and far from alignment between the talents of people and their practice reducing the chance for performance and pleasure (and progress). Features used for this quantification are even not anymore adapted to the contemporary world. But the inertia is huge and this system is still active.
Improvisation should be also include in the pedagogy .. transmission is a mindset which will facilitate the improvisation by flexibility of mind, availability. To encourage improvisation the “professor” should not take any dominant position .. in order to allow the student to dare .. as a coach with a client. He stimulates the identities of each student
In term of mindset, improvisation means also no fear to be lost, curiosity.
Having an open mind is considering all possibilities.
In Jazz, improvisation is not an obligation for a demonstration of virtuosity, not a competition, not an obligation for something beautiful: it is simply a moment to live, a dialogue. Improvisation generates encounters as it is the origin of every new path. It is freedom.
Freedom but not forgetting the value of any academic/experience background. Innovation and learned skills are complementary.
The balance is between “unlearn” to better “understand”; a vulnerability which is not easy to assume in the today’s society. Improvisation presupposes self confidence and trust in others.
By improvising, we are producing a sincere talk, brut and immediate. Using our emotions, our techniques … our failures. A mix of structure and spontaneity… overpassing our fears, self reflecting who we are, accepting to challenge our ideas, point of views, believes, certainties
Improvisation and Coaching:
As each client is an unknown universe we are discovering as coach, I really believe that the philosophy and mindset associated to improvisation is something to use, to develop, to master (Competency 6 Listens Actively)
Serendipity could be a dimension of coaching: ability to discover something unexpected, to assess its value, to see the chance/potential associated.
The final output will be the combination of acquired skills (ICF compétences & code of ethic) and improvisation.
It can be useful to scan the experience of the client in term of improvisation, his relation with this concept. What were the personal life events which obliged him to improvise. Or the global events like the recent pandemic. How did he practice improvisation, the benefits, the challenges, the limits and difficulties. To distinguish acts and mindset. But always looking for learnings and progress.
How today improvisation can be a tool in the conquest of higher performance. How to increase the potential ? To consider this dimension not only with ourself but also with others, starting with the relation client-coach?
Improvisation is that elusive moment, which escapes us by definition but can leave within us an extraordinary emotion, a trace, a vibration. It resembles poetry – in Greek, the term “poiesis” means “creation,” and the verb “poiein” means “to make, to create.” It is a poignant oxymoron between a brief text, a fleeting time, and a profound, lasting sensation of unparalleled intensity. Is it not also an ideal coaching session ? A relative short moment with ideally a long lasting effect for the client. In the coaching philosophy as sustainability is one of the core value of ICF.
Improvisation is also the way to overcome the fear of failure. Isn’t fear often the main hindrance to unlocking each client’s potential, the fear of being judged? Coaching should be associated with creativity, new ideas, new pattern without any limitation, in any case during the identification of all opportunities.
The search of perfection is also not the best approach. Very often it is the first reason not to start, not to dare any experimentation. The cost of the perfection is often also not affordable. The coach should encourage the client to envisage all actions despite there is no insurance of perfection, but insurance of learning is more than enough, is a permanent gift. (Competency 8 : Facilitates Client Growth)
The client should consider the gap between what is right or perfect with the results of his actions as a the first sign of his ability to build new roads in order to reach higher objectives. Important is to accept the doubt, the unknown at the beginning. To be in peace with a sort of silence, emptiness. Can be compared with a coaching session right at the beginning when it is sometime not obvious for a client to establish with the coach an agreement. To accept the silences of the client, and maintaining presence (Competency 5 Maintains Presence)
He will understand that more he will dare to improvise, less will be his fears .. and all the coming experiences will be more successful. Without final achievement, improvisation will continuously motivate to reach new dimensions, with always more fulfillment, experimentation, lived experience. (Competency 8 marker 4 how the new learnings will be used) “Not taking risks is to shy away from embracing freedom.” (Anne Dufourmantelle)
The quality of the questioning of the coach should be with the right mindset of the client allowing to feel, to welcome, to integrate what is emerging, with a “letting go” spirit, fully embracing the present moment. Keeping judgement and emotions at the right distance. It is exactly the mood of an improvisator. A coach should evokes awareness exploring beyond’s the current thinking, feeling to new or expanded ways of thinking (Competency 7 Evokes Awareness). A way probably to transform a coaching session in a fluid, surprising, learning and efficient moment. To get the possibility to explore invisible worlds with a revisited optic. “Do not go gentle into that good night .. rage, rage against the dying of the light” (Dylan Thomas poem into the film of Christopher Nohan Interstellar). By definition improvising means to create something that does not exist, concentrated on the present moment: here again it is in line with coaching .. maintains presence by definition in the present moment (competency 5)
As a good public jam session is celebrated by the public, the coach celebrates the client’s progress and learning ! (Markers 8.8 Coach celebrates the client’s progress and learning). The improvisation was possible during the duration of a concert .. same with coaching, the session (Coaching Conversation) is the time window allowing a go a step forward.
Often a project has a first objective. By introducing improvisation, the final result can be far from the initial objective. Here again we are talking about serendipity. Perhaps, a coaching process during 6 months can also bring an outcome which is far from the initial proposal of the client. But it could fit better the real talents to the client, his real values: then this mindset, this way of creating drives to a much better output. Time is a factor for success. Like the creation’s process in art, coaching embraces the long term. It can be considered as a sort of safety part of the process : not an emergency to get a results (competency 4 Cultivates Trust and Safety). During all the process the client will reinforce his self-confidence and skills to look for new possibles and new sills to elaborate innovative solutions.
In front of all the competencies and markers, improvisation could look like a “fragile” process, but while it may be more fragile in form, it is much more stable in essence. We have to accept our vulnerabilities both as client or coach. Ideally should not be only associated with coaching when the situation is difficult but all along the life, with all coaches. “Perfection begins the moment I embrace my flaws.”
“In music as in life, the true meaning of the journey will only unfold gradually, perhaps even towards the end. It’s essential to trust the musician, the group. From this trust and patience, beautiful music often arises. If we start reading a novel whose ending we already more or less know, the suspense is neutralized, and we’re not very motivated to continue. The same applies to life.
The interest and the very essence of our life lie in not knowing its twists and turns or its conclusion. We might have experienced all possible lives, yet there will always be the opportunity to give our life, this gigantic improvisation, a new meaning, right up until our final breath.”