On Spontaneity and Improvisation
June 13, 2008, 7:37 am
Filed under: family, friends, innovation, the purple door

I have a young friend, a student that lives at The Purple Door.  This person, by admission, dislikes the unplanned life.  As little spontaneity as possible is the rule.  Instead, there are lists – lists about everything.  Lists of schedules, meals, books to read, graduate schools to consider, everything.  This student once told me about the process of selecting which college to go to – it involved something like 200 schools, and an extremely intricate matrix of decision making, which ultimately narrowed the decision down to one.  As it turns out, for all that planning and listing, the school selected was the wrong one for this person, and after one year, the student made the choice to transfer to UW . . . which actually wasn’t even on the original list of 200!

Now, I’m not Mr. Spontaneous or anything, but I do like to mix it up once in a while, just to keep things in life fresh.  Living a totally unplanned life would be chaotic, both for me, and all the people around me.  I know I already create stress for some people that have to live and work with me by my “make it up as I go along” mentality.  But I actually do intentionally live into that rhythm.  It’s that hard to define space between spontaneity and improvisation. 

I think you can plan to be spontaneous, but improvisation is just a part of life.  You can plan with a friend ahead of time to go out for dinner, without deciding where to eat until you’re together, and then just pick what sounds good to you in the moment – that hints at spontaneity.  You can cook dinner for some friends, but run out of a key ingredient, and have to either change the recipe or change the dish altogether – that hints at improvisation.  Like I said, improv is part of life . . . but it’s only part of life.  If it’s too large a part of life, you get true chaos.  It’s that whole biblical thing – “where there is no vision, the people perish.”

The past 48 hours have included some very frustrating time for me, because I hadn’t planned for as much improvisation as my circumstances have called for.  It’s already extremely busy around here, and I really didn’t need to deal with added stress – especially of the relatively petty kind I’ve gotten.  But that’s improv for ya – you don’t always get to choose when you’ll be improvising.

I don’t actually know the defined differences between spontaneity and improvisation.  I’m not gonna go look it up in a dictionary.  I’ve just been musing here.  In order to illustrate, I’ve seen the following video floating around the internet for the past several weeks.  What do you think – is this spontaneous, improvisational, neither, or both? 


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