1 n 2010_fall_learning_secondcity_hohkim


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This article was originally written in Korean language for the fall issue of “1/n”, a creative magazine (managing editor, Takhwan Kim, and editor-in-chief, Hanmin Kim) in Korea.

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1 n 2010_fall_learning_secondcity_hohkim

  1. 1. “Learning is Unscripted” by Hoh Kim Fall Issue of “1/n” “Learning is Unscripted”1 : Learning how to learn from the comedians at Chicago’s The Second City Kim, Hoh2 (Head Coach, THE LAB ® ) “If an army marching in lockstep to tightly arranged military music is a metaphor for yesterday’s workplace, the workplace of the future will be more like a jazz ensemble, where musicians improvise creatively around an agreed key, melody, and tempo.” - From Wikinomics by Don Tapscott & Anthony D. Williams “Plan less and discover more.” - Tom Yorton “... Only then [when it is your own work] will learning become truly enjoyable and you can immerse yourself into it.” - Lin Yutang Dear Mr. Kim Han Min, Editor-in-Chief: 1. Ihave arrived in Chicago on August 7th . I must be growing old since I wasn’t able to adjust to the new time zone and ended up sleeping all afternoon. I have received your email regarding the topic for the autumn issue. “What is learning?” At first I was at a loss. It seemed like quite a challenging topic. So I did some research. The 1979 Nobel Prize in Economics laureate, Arthur Lewis once said, “Education is the most backward of all large industries.” And the following excerpt appears in the book Importance of Living written by Lin Yutang in 1937. “Why is it that meditating is overlooked at school? ....Freshmen study solely to prepare for their second year and sophomores study in preparation for their junior year…. Students are all studying for the sake 1 This article was originally written in Korean language for the fall issue of “1/n”, a creative magazine (managing editor, Takhwan Kim, and editor-in-chief, Hanmin Kim) in Korea. 2 Hoh Kim (twiter: @hoh) is the founder & head coach at THE LAB h® , a specialized executive coaching firm in the area of crisis communication (Seoul, Korea). He is the first and only Korean CMCT (Cialdini Method Certified Trainer) by INFLUENCE AT WORK. He was Managing Director of Edelman Korea. He is also currently attending Ph.D. program at KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology; Advisor: Dr. Jaeseung Jeong), and preparing his dissertation on apology. Contact: hoh.kim@thelabh.com.
  2. 2. “Learning is Unscripted” by Hoh Kim Fall Issue of “1/n” of their professors….” More recently, in 2006, Alvin Toffler wrote in his book Revolutionary Wealth that if we were to measure the pace of change in organizations, the fastest would be the change in businesses at 100 miles per hour, while the public education system’s pace would only be at 10 miles per hour. According to Toffler, the education system is slower in advancement than government bureaucracies and slightly faster than law enforcement. I first entered school in 1975. Three years ago, when I was approaching 40, I was struggling my way through a doctoral program in graduate school while simultaneously running my own business. I discovered that there were at least three similarities in terms of classroom settings between now and 35 years ago. The first is attention. During the entire class, the teacher and students look in opposite directions (perhaps not only physically, but also mentally), and students mainly look at the back of the heads of the students who are sitting in front of them. The second similarity between now and then is talk. More than 95% of the time, it is the teacher who does all the talking. At the end of the class, as a means to be “considerate” to the students, the teacher asks if there are any questions. The third is space. Although a classroom should be about learning and imagination, classrooms still remain rather dull. I first entered school with high expectations as the word “creativity” was written on the building where I took class. To my regret, it was nothing more than just words. Apparently, the remarks made by Lin Yutang, Arthur Lewis, and Alvin Toffler all hold true, not only in the past but until now. So why am I sharing this? When I received the topic, “What is learning?” the first thing that popped into my mind was a video clip of Alain de Botton’s speech. I noticed that he refers to words of opposite meanings in order to explain a concept. Ironically, the first antonym for learning that came to my mind was “school”. Of course, by saying this, I realize I am basically putting myself in an awkward position as I returned to school a few years ago. 2. Anyway, let me tell you why I have come to Chicago. I thought the topic of my writing might in fact be related to the purpose of my trip. While I am here, I will be taking improvisation classes at The Second City, a comedy theater founded in 1959. Why an improv class? Because the world is changing. As mentioned in the book Wikinomics, organizations, thus far, were comparable to orchestras composed of employees following “scores” or policies and manuals under the “conductor” or CEO. However, organizations in an economy of creativity and impromptu media such as Twitter, must now transform into a jazz band that can perform improvised music while staying in tune. And while looking up “improvisation”, I landed on a page about The Second City that dubbed it as the “Harvard of Improvisation.” In an age of creativity, improvisation is gaining ground. Matt Hovde, my instructor from The Second City said, “Improv is a way to unlock your creativity.” Founded in 1959, TheSecond City evolved from The Compass Players composed of University of Chicago graduates and dropouts. Bill Murray, who appeared in movies such as Groundhog Day and Lost in Translation, is just one of the plethora of famous comedic actors that spent time at The Second City.
  3. 3. “Learning is Unscripted” by Hoh Kim Fall Issue of “1/n” What makes The Second City so interesting is that not only has the theater been producing an enormous number of prospective actors by leveraging the techniques of improvisation accumulated through 50 years of comedic performances, but it has also established The Second City Communications, which designs and conducts training programs for over 400 businesses each year. And that is the very reason why I thought my experience here may be linked to the topic I received from you. Including Americans, Canadians, and Britons, there are 15 people who are taking the course with me. Luckily, with the help of the person here in charge of PR, I was able to interview Tom Yorton, the CEO of The Second City Communications. In many ways, I believe my stay in Chicago allowed me to think about learning. 3. It is now week two since attending classes here. Last week, we mainly learned about the basic techniques for improvisation. This week’s curriculum focuses on creating short situations utilizing the obtained techniques from the first week’s basic improv class. Before my interview with CEO Tom Yorton, I read one of his articles written in 2005. From his article I learned that interestingly enough, improvisation initially had nothing to do with comedy or entertainment and rather was first used as a tool for education. However, it was Viola Spolin (1906 – 1994), an American drama teacher and author, who began to use improvisation for the first time in theater for training creativity and self-expression skills. Her son, Paul Sills, was one of The Second City’s co-founder, and the improvisation tradition that Spolin created still continues here at the theater. 4. Iwould like to share with you in five of my thoughts as well as some memos I kept while learning how to learn through improvisation from my teachers here. Yes, and…: One of the main scenes from an improvisation class goes as follows. Two people stand facing each other. One person starts acting on cue. For instance, if I act as a deli shop staff and suddenly ask, “What kind of sandwich do you want?” my partner will order a sandwich or act as if he/she were a customer. In improvisation, “Yes, and…” does not literally mean just “yes” but goes beyond and means that he/she accepts the situation or the premise and adds something to it on the spot. In other words, an actor never says, “This is nonsense” about a situation created on stage by their counterpart. This spontaneous spirit is closely related to the mindset of brainstorming as well as “consilience” as emphasized in academics and learning. Although a social phenomenon may be viewed differently by engineers and social scientists, they should not get entangled in a “turf war” and instead must be able to advance themselves by accepting each other’s opinions and views and by contributing their own ideas. In other words, we might be using the word “but” excessively. In improvisation class there are “yes, and”s but no “yes, but”s. Ensemble: At The Second City, everyone practices and performs in teams as opposed to in stand-up comedy, where a single comedian performs in front of an audience.
  4. 4. “Learning is Unscripted” by Hoh Kim Fall Issue of “1/n” Tom Yorton asserts that this is why a comedic stage can be likened to social organizations. According to Yorton, by working in ensembles for improvisation, we recognize the essentiality of teamwork, listening to others, and adapting to changes in solidarity. So I had this thought. It is something I heard from a friend who runs a very successful business. A person can make up to several hundreds of millions of Korean won on their own, but they must have the support of others to make more than that. In order to achieve a certain level of success and happiness, we need others’ help. Wouldn’t it be the same for learning? I believe that essentially, there is no such thing as “self-education.” Although “self-education,” in the sense of passing a test without attending school, may exist, learning is actually based on mutual interaction. As Confucius once said, “When there are three people walking, my teacher is bound to be among them.” I think learning happens by making efforts to learn from others. "It's not about being perfect": This is what Tom Yorton told me. In improvisation, it is inevitable that we make mistakes. As myself non-native English speaker, having to do improvisation in English led to even more mistakes than a regular improviser would make. In some cases, I made mistakes because I couldn’t understand what the other person was saying. Still no one ever laughed at me, and in fact, they kindly and patiently explained the situation when I was at a complete loss. Classes are led by mainly students and not teachers here. Tom Yorton said that a great improvisation actor is not someone who makes less mistakes but one who can be “cool” about it and just push it aside. These types of people admit that there successful performances may include mistakes. So, Mr. Kim, you have asked me, why certain people become “learning machines” and want to learn all the time. I have found the answer to your question in Benjamin Barber’s words: “I don't divide the world into the weak and the strong, or the successes and the failures. I divide the world into learners and non-learners.” I believe that everyone has the desire to learn new things. Yet, the difference lies in those who put up with the mistakes and inconveniences that arise while learning new things versus those who don’t. Character: In improvisation, although we improvise according to the situation, once we go on stage, we maintain a clearly defined character. The character does not change although the situation might. For instance, if an actor is playing a cynical character, then regardless of whether his/her counterpart picks a fight or says, “I love you,” the actor maintains the cynical character while acting improv. The book Improvising Better, written by Jimmy Carrane and Liz Allen who have worked in Chicago as an actor and trainer including at The Second City, says that the one secret key to improvisation is to do it in “your style.” In short, the main objective of improvisation training is to help find one’s voice. Therefore, although learning is about what we learn from others, the final goal is to find one’s own voice or point of view during the process. "Plan less and discover more": While I was contemplating about what to write on learning, a professor from my graduate school seminar class showed us two scenes from the movie Mona Lisa Smile. When Katherine Ann Watson (played by Julia
  5. 5. “Learning is Unscripted” by Hoh Kim Fall Issue of “1/n” Roberts) shows a slide show of master art pieces based on a textbook during an art history class at the renowned Wellesley College, the “top” students, having studied beforehand, deliver a response by memorizing what was in the textbook word for word. Realizing that these students have formed a rigid paradigm for learning, in her next class, Watson shares pictures that were not in the textbook, including a picture of her mother and asks, “What is art?” This sparks surprise and a heated debate among the robotic students. This example shows that preparing and studying beforehand to some extent can hinder learning. Tom Yorton says that when it comes to learning, planning can undermine natural discovery. In other words, it can be better to ponder about an important question and discuss it rather than to study and memorize a textbook front to back. 5. While looking back at the past two weeks I spent at The Second City, five keywords sum up my thoughts on learning: positive, team, mistakes, my voice, and discovery. When we accept others’ opinions with a positive attitude, strive to learn from others, and not fear making mistakes, we will be able to discover our voice. I also found that there are commonalities between improvisation, learning, and life. First, all three require the techniques of “between.” We can find the answer between people. Secondly, during a presentation on improvisation at a conference several years back, the presenter said, “There is no script in life.” There wasn’t a syllabus or textbook used during the courses at The Second City. Teachers talked for only 10% of the time. However, there were many dialogues and trials that took place between students, and mistakes were rampant. Still, I believe I have learned so much more than ever before. Learning? Perhaps there is no script to real learning either. In late August, Hoh Kim