Improspectives

Improv skills lead to success

Posts Tagged ‘introvert

Introverts at Parties: Part 2

leave a comment »

About two years ago I wrote a quick post on how introverts can survive at parties. It was a good idea but, upon rereading it at the end of 2014, I realize I didn’t include a lot of usable advice. Therefore, in the proud tradition of the internet, I present this listicle:

  • Go with a friend. Partying can be lonely work when you’re there by yourself. If you can, find someone to attend the party/affair/function/whatever with you.
  • Practice your introduction. Neil Gaiman, a famous writer, follows a script. “Hi, my name is Neil. I’m a writer. What do you do?” If it’s a party without name tags or place settings, you could modify that statement to: “Hi, I’m Curt. I’m a writer. How about you?” Learning and remembering names helps establish yourself as a good conversational partner.
  • Arrive a little after the start time and leave after about a third of the guests have departed. Arriving too early is awkward and leaving too soon implies you’re not having a good time, but if you’re tiring and need a break, having a guideline in place can help take the stress off. That said, if you’re truly uncomfortable, make your apologies and head home.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation. Alcohol is a social lubricant, but the first thing it affects is your judgment. It’s also a mood enhancer, meaning that it makes your emotions stronger. If you’re feeling crowded and overwhelmed, consuming alcohol can make it worse. In a similar vein, alcohol removes inhibitions. That might sound like a great thing for an introvert, but remember that if you’re not used to being outgoing you could easily overdo it and make a fool of yourself (see “affects your judgment” above). Feel free to drink a little, but one serving (1 ounce of whiskey, 4 ounces of wine, or 12 ounces of beer) per hour is about right for the average person.
  • Share the wall. Standing with your back to a wall or in a corner provides literal support, but anyone facing you must at least partially block your path forward. If you’re in a one-on-one conversation, turn so you’re both away from the wall and can move as freely as furniture and other guests allow.
  • Spread yourself around a little. As an introvert, I often hoped to find one person to talk with for the rest of the evening. For most party-goers that won’t be possible or desirable, so be ready to move around and don’t take it amiss when the person you love talking to moves on.
  • Thank your conversation partner. My wife and I took ballroom dance classes for about a year and, while we no longer pursue it as a hobby, I do like the practice of thanking your partner when you switch around. Smiling and expressing appreciation reinforces that you’re a pleasant person others will enjoy talking to, which makes starting the next conversation easier.
  • Learn more about your introverted self. The best book I’ve found in living as (or with) an introvert is Quiet, by Susan Cain. I’m not severely introverted, but I found lots of useful insights in her book.

I hope this advice helps. Remember: be open, be honest, and understand we’re all works in progress. If something goes wrong this holiday season, do better next time.

Written by curtisfrye

December 27, 2014 at 2:27 pm

See, Think, Design, Produce: Randall Munroe’s Presentation

leave a comment »

The last of the three STDP2 presentations I’ll review was by Randall Munroe, creator of the online comic xkcd. I’ve read xkcd for years and am constantly amazed at the quality of his work.

Munroe started out by noting that it’s ridiculously easy to get in your own way by trying to automate a process that can be done perfectly well by hand. As an example, consider a chart showing character interactions in the Star Wars or Lord of the Rings movies.

movie_narrative_charts

Original source: http://xkcd.com/657/

 

Gandalf’s a plot hack.

                            – Randall Munroe

Munroe said that he tried for ten years, off and on, to develop a tool that could translate a script into a character interaction timeline. Finally, frustrated, he drew the graph for the original Star Wars trilogy by hand in an hour. I imagine the timeline for 12 Angry Men took slightly less time to complete.

Displaying data is easy, Munroe argued, but determining which data to show is tough. That said, some presentation modes are better than others. Once he finds an angle he likes, he looks for other ways he can leverage that approach. Recently, he published a graphic on California droughts that uses the physical shape of the state as its axes. I’d love to see this design metaphor used in other graphics.

california

Original source: http://xkcd.com/1410/

 

He makes his infographics more palatable by adding humor, such as asides about a specific data point or a joke to indicate that, while he takes the analysis seriously, he doesn’t take himself too seriously. That approach lets him reveal that the Environmental Protection Agency assigns a human life an economic value of $8.2 million when performing cost-benefit analysis without inciting his readers.

Munroe came across as a soft-spoken, gentle person who is still slightly uncomfortable speaking in public. That said, his resolve strengthened when he discussed his wife’s cancer diagnosis and how he communicated the realities of treatment and survival rates. The image that resulted, “Lanes”, is one of the most powerful infographics I’ve encountered.

lanes

Original source: http://xkcd.com/931/

 

He didn’t want to leave us on such a somber note, so he concluded by showing us a graphic called “Lakes and Oceans” that he thought was interesting but nothing special. It shows the relative depths of  various bodies of water and the ocean floor. He was surprised to discover it was one of the most popular things he published that year.

lakes_and_oceans

Original source: http://xkcd.com/1040/

 

I enjoyed my time in Seattle. The presentations by Jonathan Corum, Maria Popova, and Randall Munroe gave me a burst of energy that have let me approach my own work from a fresh perspective.

Chess as a game (among many)

leave a comment »

Chess is often called “the queen of games”, at least in Western culture. The game’s austere appearance, when combined with its tactical and strategic depth, provides an air of challenge and mystery.

In many ways, chess is the prototypical Western game. Strategies and tactics are direct, with little progress to be made unless you directly confront your opponent. Chess is also a perfect information game, meaning there is no element of chance. You might not know your opponent’s next move, but there’s nothing hiding it from you. If you didn’t see what was coming, you can only blame yourself.

Although chess has increased in popularity in Asia, the traditional strategy game of Japan, China, and South Korea is go. Unlike chess, where the goal is to create a position where your opponent’s king is under attack and cannot move to a safe square, go players place their stones in an attempt to surround territory on the board. Chess boards are 8 x 8, with 64 squares, and the pieces stand on the squares. In go, the board has 19 x 19 lines, with 361 intersections, and players may place a stone on any unoccupied intersection (with a few exceptions).

The complexity of go far outstrips that of chess, at least in terms of the computation required to analyze and evaluate a position. Computers have conquered humans at chess…their calculating speed and positional evaluation let them beat even the strongest carbon-based players regularly. The most advanced go programs can only beat top professionals if they are given a substantial head start. That said, the gap is closing.

I said that chess is the prototypical Western game, but it’s mostly thought of as a European (and even more specifically, Russian) game. In America, the game of choice is poker. Poker is a gambling game, with a significant element of chance involved. You can do everything right but still lose if your opponent decides to fight the odds and draws the cards they need. Ironically, the better you play, the more of these “bad beat” stories you’ll have to tell. If you’re always in the lead, the luck of the draw means you will get chased down on occasion.

I hope I don’t sound bitter. But I am.

Do the Russians play chess, the Chinese play go, and the Americans play poker? If you look at our cultures and practices, you’ll see there’s a fair amount of truth to that statement. How well that metaphor translates to actionable intelligence is debatable, but it’s an interesting way to start a conversation.

Diversity Doesn’t Always Look Different

leave a comment »

In my last post, I talked about the bullying that went on between Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin. The two men play football for the Miami Dolphins…or rather, they did. Martin left the team as a result of what he termed “harassment” and the Dolphins have suspended Incognito indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team. They reportedly plan to cut ties with him.

It’s come out in the last couple of days that Incognito might have been given instructions from the Miami coaching staff to “toughen up” Martin. Martin grew up in a well-off household and went to Stanford, which doesn’t cut athletes too many breaks on GPA and academic performance. He’s quiet and thoughtful. Incognito, on the other hand, is a brasher, tougher person who didn’t grow up in the nice part of town.

Martin is black and Incognito is white, but there’s an interesting racial dynamic to the situation. On the November 6 episode of ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, Michael Wilbon, who is black, pointed out that there’s an ongoing conversation in the community about what it means to be black. That conversation takes on a special meaning in the context of the super-macho NFL. According to media reports on ESPN’s web site and Wilbon’s commentary on PTI, Incognito is considered an “honorary” black person who could use the n-word casually in the locker room without offense. In fact, again according to Wilbon, Incognito was seen as “blacker” than Martin because Incognito’s behavior fit into the team’s cognitive model of what an NFL, and more specifically a black NFL player, should be like.

And that’s where the problem lies: the stereotype of how an NFL player should act. A thoughtful, sensitive, introverted person like Martin plays the game differently than his teammates. Maybe he’s not as forceful as his fellow linemen, but he wasn’t voted the second dirtiest player in the league like Incognito was, either. The stereotypical means of “toughening up” a player drove Martin from the team and to document his teammate’s behavior. Veteran Dolphin players have backed Incognito’s actions, calling him Martin’s “big brother” and characterized him as a person who always had Martin’s back. By contrast, when asked if Martin would be welcome in the Dolphins locker room, most players declined to answer.

I have to admit I have a lot more sympathy for Incognito than I did after I first heard about his conduct. Rather than acting as a rogue agent, he appears to have behaved in a manner consistent with the team’s culture. Whether that behavior is “right” or “legal” is up for discussion.

It’ll be interesting to see how this situation shakes out. I characterized the issue as one of diversity in the post’s title, pointing to the difference in cognitive style, personality, and approach Martin takes to life and the game. He’s a minority within the NFL, so there’s a question of whether he and (presumably) his attorney choose to make a hostile work environment claim based in whole or part on his status. Certainly the allegations in the case point to consistent behavior that might be contrary to the law, but I’m not a lawyer. I have a feeling we’ll all learn more about it in the coming months.

Finally, let me conclude with something that, thankfully, doesn’t apply to anyone with whom I currently work: If you think I need toughening up, you’re welcome to try it. I will become more aggressive, but it’ll be in your direction. I do what I do and I’m good at it. My approach works for me. If you think I’m doing it wrong, that’s your problem, not mine. Maybe you screwed up when you hired me.

Don’t Tolerate Abuse

leave a comment »

I’m not sure how many of you follow American sports, in this case the National Football League, but something important happened yesterday. The Miami Dolphins suspended Pro Bowl offensive lineman Richie Incognito for conduct detrimental to the team. The suspension resulted from an investigation after a Dolphin player left the team as a result of constant abuse, allegedly at the hands of Incognito.

NFL teams, like many sports teams and other organizations, has a tradition of hazing rookie players. Some examples include making rookies carry veteran players’ shoes, sing songs, duct-taping them to goal posts, and so on. If published reports are true, Incognito’s threatening text messages and at least one voice mail went far beyond what’s considered acceptable within the league. In a possibly related note, an ESPN.com article noted that an anonymous player survey tagged Incognito as the second dirtiest player in the league.

Bullying cannot and must not be tolerated. Yes, we all need to be mentally tough enough to make it through stressful times, but constant attacks on sensitive individuals will probably erode their base, not strengthen it. Also, just because someone can take abuse doesn’t mean they should have to.

If you find anyone in your organization who makes a habit of trying to “build others up” through bullying or other abuse, take decisive action immediately to put a stop to it. If you don’t, you could be responsible for team dysfunction and get your own dose of suffering when the inevitable lawsuit comes. I think you’ll enjoy defending a firing for misconduct a lot more than defending a lawsuit for failing to stop abusive behavior.

Improv Should NOT Be a Surprise

leave a comment »

My friend Rick Maue, a talented performer and innovator in the branch of stage magic called mentalism, identifies three types of performances:

  • Theater, which is a show people come to see in a formal setting
  • Entertainment at events such as banquets, where the performance is part of the overall evening’s activities
  • Filler, where the audience has absolutely no idea you will be there or that there will be any kind of show

I’d like to add a fourth type: Hell, which is a Virgin Atlantic flight with musicians and improv comedians roaming the aisles. Don’t believe me? Here’s part of a Fast Company article describing the scheme:

Virgin Atlantic Little Red, a U.K. domestic rebranding of Virgin Atlantic, will feature “in-flight gigs” on selected flights that include live music and improv comedians. Entertainment will take place on flights headed to Edinburgh and Manchester, and performers will be selected from the talent pool at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

But here’s the kicker: While the acts will be mentioned on Virgin Atlantic’s Facebook and Twitter pages, the flights they will be performing on will be a surprise. We’re guessing that business travelers, improv comedy, and a confined environment will be a volatile mixture, but that’s just us.

I do improv and stage magic and think I’m pretty entertaining, but I only take a few strolling mentalism gigs at company parties a year. I want to be sure I’ll be a good fit and often look for reasons to break off from a group early rather than overstay my welcome. I don’t want to be what sports commentator Joe Buck refers to as “the guy at parties who insists on doing card tricks no one wants to see”. I don’t mind stopping to watch a street performer for a few minutes. In fact, I tipped a terrific human statue when my wife and I were in Tallinn, Estonia, in July.

livingstatue

I’d rather donate three pints of blood in an hour than be on a flight with a live musician or improvisers. I’m one of you, guys, and I don’t begrudge you the money, but I will not interact with you.

I think someone in Virgin corporate learned the wrong lesson from the funny PA announcements some Southwest flight attendants make. Those presentations work because they’re fast, they’re hilarious, and they’re over.

Improv and Gamification: Motivation

leave a comment »

In my previous post, I mentioned four basic elements of gamification put forward by Wharton School faculty members Kevin Werbach and Dan Hunter. Those elements are:

  • Motivation
  • Meaningful choices
  • Structure
  • Potential conflicts

Motivation is tricky. I’ve stated my belief that all motivation is internal, but I  admit it’s a reductionist and curmudgeonly view. Many individuals, particularly extroverts, gain energy by interacting with others. Yes, you can argue they use these interactions to stoke their personal fire, but the truth is that the external forces affect their performance.

I’ll still use my “all motivation is internal” line at parties, though. It’s fun to argue and often leads to interesting discussions.

Gamification uses game elements such as points, badges, and leader boards to set goals, measure performance, and reward individual and team success. One example, which is near to my heart because I’ve written books for Microsoft Press since 2001, is how Microsoft used gamification to get their employees to identify errors in Windows 7 dialog boxes. Windows 7 is available in 35 languages, meaning that the dialog boxes and other text was translated into tongues as diverse as Chinese, Swedish, and Polish. Microsoft tracked which teams (usually members of the same business group) discovered the most errors and posted their names on a leader board displayed in the tool. Some team leaders decided to focus their efforts on the contest, which led to impressive performance.

Improvisers receive feedback from their audience immediately, usually in the form of laughter, but also as appreciation for what’s been done. Some performers can be thrown off by a quiet crowd, especially if they feel they’re having a good night but the audience just isn’t laughing. If you’re not getting the audible feedback you’re used to, check for eye contact. If your spectators meet your gaze and smile, you’re doing fine. They just prefer to express themselves quietly.