Jump, Then Justify

April 16, 2014

What springs to mind when you encounter the word spontaneity? Footloose and fancy free? Grand adventure? Impulsive abandonment?

How about permission to fail? Truly trusting intuition? These probably aren’t the first things that come to mind.

How a “torturously reflective” individual ended up in an Improvisation workshop

Earlier this year, at the encouragement of our Directors, Paul and Neale, I attended a 3-month workshop on Improvisation and Spontaneity.

It was a choice of personal/career development I found somewhat humorous, because I’m an INFJ. (The very fact that I know my Myers Briggs Type Indicator personality type is indicative of that personality.) Whether you are a believer or not in this personality type or cognitive style theory, INFJs are known to be:

“…quietly – and at times, tortuously – reflective, but when convicted can transform in an instant into a crusading leader. Yet the transformation from a quiet, introspective individual to crusader is binary, with no granularity; the INFJ will be reflecting or crusading, nothing in between.”

MBTI Infographic Source: http://thephilosophicalboy.wordpress.com/2013/02/08/mbti-infographic/

I recognize this all-or-nothing approach; a subconscious disposition that sometimes leaves me mulling over things until I feel I have a strong point to make or something to contribute publicly.

Nevertheless, I'm hardly one to back down from a challenge. Close friends can attest to the veracity of my competitive streak, which makes my fear of karaoke - but not the tone deafness – vanish once points are up for grabs (Playstation SingStar, anyone?). And surely, if Tina Fey accredits her success to an Improv class, I could surely learn a thing or two (she explains how Improv changed her life here).

So the question was, what was a ‘torturously reflective’ individual to do in a weekly Improvisation workshop?

Let’s set the scene…

My poison: Short-form improvisation, made popular by the television series Whose Line Is It Anyway? and Thank God You’re Here.

The chalice: Impro Melbourne, Victoria’s premier improvised theatre company (the esteemed Artistic Director of which is the iSelect guy. Yes, that iSelect guy on TV.)


Any initial fears were not allayed when I met my fellow students of Improvisation; we were a superior mix of oddity: awkwardness, uncertainty, closed body language and timid eye contact.

(I’m unapologetic for this observation, because I can report that everyone revealed himself or herself to be most witty and delightful. The workshops took care of the awkward gaits, and there was remarkable change in everyone’s (external) disposition along the course of 3 months. Butterflies, all of us.)

The challenge to us was simply to say “Yes, and…”. Any suggestion (offer) that came our way, we were to remain open to it (accept). That way, a scene builds from a tiny action, expression or quip (offer + accept + offer + accept).




As it turns out, Spontaneity has little to do with having an extroverted orientation.

We talked about 9 principles of Improvisation. I'll expound on one that stood out for me: ‘Jump, then justify’. This means making a leap either with new information or some kind of reaction, and following through on our intuition and ideas.

However hard any of us try to resist schooling, we are taught (and eventually accept) that intelligence is the most important part of ourselves. In fact, misappropriation of the phrase ‘the idea economy’ perpetuates this false ideal. We try to be clever in everything we do.

Keith Johnstone, the pioneer of improvisational theatre, writes of his experience:

“The damage was greatest in areas where my interests and the school’s seem to coincide: in writing, for example (I wrote and rewrote, and lost all my fluency). I forgot that inspiration isn’t intellectual, that you don’t have to be perfect. In the end, I was reluctant to attempt anything for fear of failure, and my first thoughts never seemed good enough. Everything had to be corrected and brought into line.”

For me, this was when the spell was broken. Not everything has to be fully formed and perfect.


Intermission: Let’s talk about marketing

When ‘Jump, Then Justify’ applies to innovation

I’m not about to debunk the whole industry of market research based on one improv insight. And I'm definitely not suggesting we get the research process back to front, squishing research in as a last box to tick. However, there are points when the ‘Jump, then Justify’ credo is necessary.

One crucial point is when a category needs to be disrupted or when there is a revolutionary product that takes things to the next curve (not mutually exclusive).

Guy Kawasaki, renowned author, investor and entrepreneur, puts it this way:

“Don't wait for perfection. Life isn't perfect. Do the best you can and ship. Real people ship, and then they test and then they ship again. Then you wake up one day and you have something insanely great.”

He recounts how when Apple shipped the first Macintosh, there was no software, hard disk, slow chips... All elements of crappiness. 

Can we 'ship' ideas or work that isn't fully formed? Should our game changer be released when it's not the ideal prototype we first dreamt up? Why not? All innovation has elements of crappiness.

Is Jump Then Justify New News?

I know of ESTPs, and in fact other personality types who fall under Originators, for whom this may seem like old news. Yet for most of my generation, we're caught in the middle of the 'Having It All' myth - you can have it all if you make the right choices - and the burden of personal liability and opportunity loss that comes with abundance of choice. 

We're also told to be brave and bold and live as if there’s no tomorrow. Yet, our education and upbringing gives us lines to colour within, then tells us it's alright to break them, and then chastises us when we do. How many of us were chastised when we did long division the 'wrong way'? Did any of us have artistic dreams crushed just because we drew purple trees and it wasn't 'right'?

We learn to hold back and to ignore our skipping rope tendency—that urge we get in the playground to join the group jump rope. We think as the rope continually hits the ground... "Now! Oh crap, I should have done it then. And then. Could have done it then. Ugh, I knew that was when I should have acted." (Credit to my wonderful Improv teacher, Sarah Kinsella, for this illustration).

It's up to us to ensure that educators and innovators teach our kids to 'ship'. That it's okay to fail. In fact, it’s good to fail, and fail often. Otherwise, we hold failure at arm’s length as an abstract axiom that becomes “it’s okay to fail if I do, but I won’t, I can’t”. People even want you to fail, then they pay attention to you, and hey, may even root for you

OFFER + ACCEPT. Building my scene from here

So, what of the rest of the course? I yelled at people I hardly knew, jumped into scenes with no idea what came next, lay on the ground as a corpse, got caught in a zombie apocalypse, became a 300-pound blind date within the span of one class... My polite hands moved in very expressive ways, my eyebrows wiggled with surprise and sorrow, my fellow students kept endowing me with a promiscuous character to act out (... WHY?), and we communicated in complete gibberish. (If you haven't communicated in gibberish since the time you were in diapers, try it. Throw away your ability to use clever words in grammatically correct sentences. It's the most liberating feeling.)

The former all-or-nothing tendency still lingers; I haven't dissociated from my personality thanks to Improv. But it's clear now I'd always let permission to fail and intuition take the backseat.

I now try to be aware of every skipping rope tendency.

We were filling the frame as... I'll leave the captioning up to your imagination. 


If you want to learn more about The Art of Having Fun in Impro Melbourne’s workshops, check them out here.