We had a workshop called Creativity in the Open a little over a week ago, though it feels like it happened in a different lifetime. After the workshop there was a retirement party for our Irwin Devries. At that party, about 10-15 people from the workshop performed an interpretive dance.
At the end of the evening, someone said to me, “I think Rajiv had that up his sleeve all along.”
“No,” I thought, “a series of small risks, serendipity, and a lot of saying yes is really what led to that dance.”
I took some time to reflect on that long path to that dance that folks were still talking about the next day.
Here is my version of the story. For me it’s important to record, because it is such a great example of how ‘easy’ it can be to make the impossible a reality through a thousand small steps. And if it works for dance, then it should work for all sorts of changes, organizational and otherwise, if only we take the risks and say yes.
The story of the dance starts back in June when Chuck Pearson proposed the idea to arrange a playdate to some Mastodon regulars. Laura Ritchie, Chrisitina Hendricks and I said yes. We talked about nothing in particular and everything. At some point during the call, Laura said, “Invite me and I will come.” And I said, “Ok. And Christina, you can come too, right?” And she said, “yes.”
Laura needed an invite to come and that seemed like a good reason to hold an event. I proposed a two-day workshop to Brian Lamb called Creativity in the Open that would include workshops by Laura and Christina and some local TRU staff and faculty doing great work. He said, “Yes.” It may be worth noting that I’ve never planned any kind of workshop or conference before, but I was buoyed by the enthusiasm I was surrounded by, and how hard could it possibly be? When Rajiv Jhangiani heard about the event, I asked if he could come and he said, “Yes.” And with that, Creativity in the Open became a real thing.
Before the workshop I took the risk to ask Rajiv if he might do something dance related, but nothing really solidified. There is another great story behind the Creativity at a Distance session, but I’ll save that for another post.
On October 22nd Laura, Christina and Rajiv were all in Kamloops to attend our Creativity in the Open event; it was happening, but we still had no dancing on the agenda.
On Monday, Laura taught a group of novices to play the violin and cello. Within an hour she took us from learning to hold the instrument and the bow to playing a song with multiple parts. And it sounded like music!
Watching that progression using music, Rajiv started thinking about how the same ideas could be applied to dance. (Yes!)
After some Tuesday breakfast discussion, Christina and Rajiv told me that they needed an extra 15 minutes for their icon drawing session. (By now, you have to know that my answer was yes). I felt something good was going to happen when Rajiv started teaching Laura handstands and Laura said with the air of certainty that we could probably stand on the tables.
As they were starting I was a little worried because our participants were a little thin… Then a couple of students trickled in, followed by a few others I hadn’t expected from Open Learning (Thank you to serendipity and those participants.)
Christina opened the session by having us quickly drawing some common words: Spring, risk, power, and (something else I can’t remember). As the drawing continued someone who upon entering the room has said, “What am I doing here?” exclaimed, “No, this is fun!”
Drawing the common words broke the ice. It helped engage us all. So when Rajiv asked us to each create a movement to represent each of the same words, everyone in the room said, “Yes.” And just as Laura had got the music going, Rajiv scaffolded the movements into 16-beat dance sections, into a fully choreographed dance in about thirty minutes. And if it had ended there, it would have been a good story.
Instead, later that night between Breaking Band sets Mark Roberts, one of the newest members of the Open Learning team, certainly the newest in the room said, “We should do the dance.” I almost said no. I was tired and it had been a really long week, but instead I said, “OK, go see who you could of gathered up.” I figured it would be just Mark and I with maybe Rajiv and Laura, but everyone who had been there earlier in the day got up and danced. And it was wonderful.
My take away from all of this is that it is often easier to say no, not to bother. It is easy to wait for the leaders to come forward. It is easy to ascribe the credit to those who you perceive to be leaders.
But that is not how change happens. Real change happens in the cracks and behind the scenes. It comes when the most unlikely of voices have been empowered. It benefits from a little good luck from time to time. It is knowing the good ideas when you hear them, and then creating the conditions for them to flourish. It is the willingness to take risks and encourage others to do the same. And often it is just saying “yes” to the seemingly impossible opportunities that come your way. And when those things happen, the results tend to be spectacular.
I’m writing this post only a little over a week later, having moved my family since the workshop and started a new job today (things that had seemed impossible only three weeks ago). On my very first day, an operations manager came to me and another guy with a big idea. We said yes, we’d look into it. We then brought it to our director who said, “That really is huge and will be a lot of work. Let’s do it!” And I thought, “Yes!” 🙂