Think Fast!

thinking fast and slow

Tortoise or Hare?

When it comes to processing information and responding to a person or situation, do you resemble the tortoise or the hare? Do you spit out the first thing that comes to you or carefully consider before speaking or acting?

Myself, I have never been a fan of “slow and steady wins the race.” So, I struggle a little to let others finish their sentences. I also blurt out information that might have been better left in my head. At the same time, my ability to think quickly and act without over evaluating at times is extremely useful for brainstorming, creativity, and making bold choices. And, yes, in school it used to get me detention (lame!)

As we all know from the fable of the tortoise and the hare, and more recently from Nobel prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, we need both.  Yes, i just compared the tortoise and the hare to Kahneman!  I’ll take the detention.

Thinking Fast and Slow

Daniel Kahneman, in Thinking, Fast and Slow, defines two systems that the brain uses to process information:

System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.”

System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration.”

When I tell people that I am an improviser, they often say, “I can’t think that fast.”

I can’t think fast enough to improvise!
Most people know that being a quick thinker helps you improvise. When we think less about everything we are going to do we are more spontaneous and creative. In other words, we seemingly operate automatically, with little or no effort on stage.

And, while that skill is very helpful in improvisational performance, that is just a part of the picture. As scenic, or long-form improvisers, we are also aiming to create scenes that are relatable to most people and feel very authentic and meaningful. For this, we take more time to concentrate on our possible choices, considering each moment, action, and response. In our improv classes and rehearsals, we exercise both of these skills to become more agile and well-rounded performers.

Fast Thinking

Thinking quickly, and with less self-judgement, is the skill that most professionals that I work with in my training sessions have either not had a chance to develop or have suppressed as they have grown up (no one wants to get detention!). In this article, I provide more insight into developing “fast thinking” with improv. In a later post, i will explore slow thinking.

Kahneman provides examples of the “automatic activities that are attributed to System 1”, including making a “disgust face” when shown a horrible picture, quickly reading a situation to “detect hostility”, and “completing the phrase ‘bread and …'”  (did you yell cheese or butter or something else?!)

Improvisers use quick thinking, like going with the first impulse to complete “bread and…” to keep action going and forward the scene.

How often does “analysis paralysis” slow you down unnecessarily?

“Forwarding the scene” at work means giving other’s ideas a try.  On stage, as in life, we often need to simply make a quick choice, try it, and build on it.  Sometimes evaluation is better left for later, when you have more to evaluate.  Creative brainstorming is one example of this.  Electric Company is one of my favorite exercises for improving on this skill.

Electric Company

The Goal: To keep a consistent rhythm as you create two-word combinations.

Number of Players: 2 or more

How To Play:

Two people can play this face-to-face or you can add people by standing in a circle. Start with everyone snapping their fingers to establish a slow beat (start very slow). You can get faster as you learn the basics, and you should!  The faster you go the more you are exercising your fast thinking!

On one snap, one person says a single syllable word – any word! The point is to say the first word that comes to mind. The person next two them says another word on the next snap. This person says the first word that comes to mind based on the word the first person says. The goal is to have no hesitation so that you keep on the rhythm. Once both words are spoken, everyone repeats them together. For example: Person A says “green”, Person B says “flash”, then everyone says “green flash.” For fun, you can add “da-do-da-do” after that. On the very next snap, Person B says a brand new word and Person C (or A if just two of you) says the next word. Again, everyone repeats. Continue around the circle (or back and forth for a pair) many times and see how fast you can go.

Why We Play This:

Everyone has a critical side that evaluates what we say, often before we say it. This serves us well in many situations, but can also work against us if it causes us to freeze up. Have fun “failing” at this game. Let a silly noise out if that is what comes out! This is your chance to practice removing the filter and being okay if the “perfect answer” doesn’t come out. Just work to stay on the beat and notice how fun it is when everyone supports you and says both the words together with excitement!

Whether you are more of a tortoise or a hare, I encourage you to practice your “fast thinking” skill with this verbal exercise.  Push yourself to let go of evaluating before creating at times and see where that leads you.  Luckily, there’s no detention hall anymore.  Well, not literally.

In my next post I’ll share some great exercises for developing fast thinking skills related to the examples of “disgust face” and “detect hostility.” (what could those possibly have to do with work?! wink. wink.) Until then, be sure to check out our signature team building program and bring these exercises to your team!

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