In stand up comedy and jazz, the participants act and react according to a few simple rules. (1) accept actions of the other contributors and (2) maintain rhythm. 

Perhaps there are other rules like staying around a particular topic or remaining in the same key, but generally those rifts are more akin to guidelines of the particular gathering than rules of the genre.

I’m no musician. I’ve never done standup comedy. However, I have been on several business panels through the years and I respect and enjoy improv. My wife and I enjoyed a live jazz trio for my birthday. Life is full of improv. And a full life is improvised. 

Mikel Berger recently wrote about partnerships and their ability to impact the world. I was toggling between David Epstein’s “Range,” Mikel’s blog post “Teams” and my own notes. The reverberations set my head spinning. 
Good partnerships practice improv with a slight spirit of machismo. Each believes that the other is better than themselves in a way, but each individual also believes they are better in other ways. They repeat, adapt , improvise and challenge the other. They volley ideas back and forth. Sometimes to help and other times to demonstrate a concept the other might adapt with their own style. John Lennon and Paul McCartney of The Beatles were arguably in a multiple decade dual. – Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs by Joshua Wolf Shenk This spring I watched Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett tango at the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting. These duets are dueling. Healthy conflict results in improvisation and improvement of both.

Epstein speaks of classical music drilling versus child-like speech repetition. Experimentation leads to discovery. We first learn to speak by repeating the words of a parent in the context of our world. Only later do we learn grammar. A self taught musician may experiment their way into a song. They learn to feel the structure in a way that does not require literacy. Reading doesn’t get in their way. My brother-in-law has this with the piano. He can hear a song, sit down at a keyboard, fumble around a little, hold the chords and structure in his memory, iterate, adapt, land on the proper enough sound, and roll. He might break out singing shorty thereafter. How does it sound? Strong enough that the Purdue Glee Club recalls him years later. His profession? Grade school teacher. How does this happen? I believe he had a natural talent but also grew up in a church that sang acapella harmonies multiple times per week. This gave him the opportunity and expectation to participate… in a gigantic partnership of sorts. His brother recently joined the choir of a large city church. His brother’s formal training? Zilch, too. 

If one of the pair is classically trained and the other self-taught the two can often challenge each other in a way that new discovery can be made. However, this often requires honor of the rules and a slack hold on the “classical” rule book. And, in the best of partnerships it requires a bit of “I can do that… and better.”

Back at ya, Mikel.

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