January 22, 2018

I’m currently enrolled in my ninth improvisational theatre class. I think. Honestly, at this point I’ve lost count.

I keep taking the classes because I find improv fascinating. If you aren’t familiar with the art form of improvisational theatre, the general idea is that a small group of people get on stage and – without a script – perform a comedic or dramatic work by following a few simple guidelines. Done right, it’s like a machine for creating inside jokes, a type of humor I really appreciate.

Unfortunately, despite nine(-ish) classes, I’m still quite bad at it. Somehow, improv seems to rely on none of my strengths and all of my weaknesses. I’m good at thinking about software systems and business models. Quietly. Alone. Improv is none of those things.

There is value in repeatedly pursuing failure like this. For one thing, finding and holding on to a mental state that feels unnatural and foreign to your usual pattern of thought is like yoga for the mind. Do this enough, and (one presumes) it brings increasingly foreign mental states within reach. It makes for a flexible thinker.

Secondly, with age comes the means and inclination to stay in your comfort zone. It is easy to forget that learning can be incredibly frustrating. Improv, being far outside my own comfort zone, helps me empathize with others confronting their own discomfort.

Moreover, it’s a high-impact, consequence-free, fast-feedback way to shore up some of the stereotypical ailments and weaknesses of the tech-minded human:

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