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One of my very favorite books is Improv Wisdom: Don't Prepare, Just Show Up. It was written by Patricia Ryan Madson, who applies the lessons she learned in teaching improv at Stanford to life. Just a wonderful, wonderful book, and one that I am re-reading. I read something over lunch that just bears quoting...

To the improv professional, the glass is always half full. There is always something there to work with; you just need to see it. There are gifts everywhere if we learn to see them.

I am always using some kind of filter when I encounter the world, whether I notice this or not. The light in which something is perceived will determine its value. I can look at a person or event from three vantage points:

  • To see what's wrong with it
  • To see it objectively
  • To see the gift in it
How do you look at reality? Which lens do you use?
Patricia then details a personal inventory that she was trained to do.
  • What had I received from others during my life?
  • What had I given back to them?
  • What trouble or bother had I caused them?
In this process, she writes:
What I discovered astounded me - a world that had been there, but was formerly unseen - a place where I was receiving far more than I had been giving; in short, a world of support. I wasn't the star, but one of many players.
Why is it that sometimes I am unnoticing and ungrateful of the gifts that others provide? What great gifts in our lives are we missing because we focus on what's wrong?

Patricia notes how even the chair on which you sit as you read this was the result of someone's labor that you now enjoy, and perhaps you never noticed.

How would the world be different if we first saw everyone and everything for the gifts they bring?

Said another way, I've been chewing on the Strengths Finders material put out by Gallup. If we focus on our weaknesses, we marginally improve. If we focus on our strengths, we exponentially improve because we're already in tune with these gifts.

What if we view others not in terms of their weaknesses, but in terms of their strengths? Not a matter of what they can't do, but what they can do? How would that change how we interact with them? Would we become thankful for the gifts they provide because we've changed how we view them?

Is it not them who needs to change, but us?

Is it all just a matter of how we see life?


by Brett Rogers, 4/5/2007 2:39:24 PM


I am grateful to you for taking the time to write about Improv Wisdom. You are an example of how I am being supported moment by moment through the efforts of others. It pleases me that the idea that stuck out was the maxim about seeing the gifts. I consider this the heart of the improv way, and the single shift in perspective that can truly change the world in an instant.

Change your lens and the world has a different hue. The perspective of "gift" is also a realistic way of seeing things.Thank you for your kind acknowledgment and for spreading the word about the book.
Patricia Ryan Madson



Posted by Patricia Ryan Madson, 4/5/2007 5:04:23 PM

I can't say enough about it, Patricia. It's in my top 10 favorites, for sure.

Thanks for stopping by!



Posted by Brett Rogers (, 4/6/2007 10:34:51 AM

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