– By Engager (and recent graduate of NYU with a Masters in Educational Leadership! Congrats!) Lawrese Brown
For many of us, repeating anything is a form of low-level torture. We spend our lives both personally and professionally convinced that we should “get it right the first time.” We think that if we just move slowly enough, plan meticulously enough, and forecast appropriately then we can nail it and never have to worry about it again. Sometimes that works, but sometimes the only surefire way to learn anything, and even more so to learn how to do anything well, is by doing it again.
Here’s what I mean: It is only in the continuous doing of anything that we really grow in our competence of it. It is in our repetition that we transform what we do well into what we do best.
As the fable goes, a pottery professor divided his class in half. To the left side, he said, “you will be graded on the quantity of work you produce” and to the right side he announced, “you will be graded on the quality of the work you produce.” Fast forward to final projects eight weeks later and the students with the highest quality pots were those whose grades were dependent upon the quantity of pots produced.
Even if this story isn’t true, it is important. In its outcome, it speaks to repetition as a means of learning, and also as the root of excellence. It also begs the question: why do we so commonly position quality and quantity as counterparts instead of complementary pieces?
When I started taking improv, my fellow improvers and I would look to Jen as the guru. We just knew that no matter what scene she was in or what word she was thrown, she was always going to ace it. In our minds, she knew everything. But when Jen overheard us all aspiring to be an improv master like she was, she said, “You guys know there’s no such thing as an improv master, right?” In that moment and in that question, she wasn’t negating the fact that she had decades of improv experience. She was highlighting the fact that while continuing improv would undoubtedly strengthen our skills, there would never be a point where we were so perfect that we never had anything left to learn. Even as we became more confident and quick thinking, there would always be a reason to keep going because there is always room for improvement.
Both taking and teaching improv have been powerful tools for my personal and professional growth. I no longer think of learning in terms of completion but as a process along a continuum – I know that every time I take an improv course or teach a class, my desire for improvement (strengthening old skills and learning new ones) is what will push me toward a level of quality and excellence. As Bruce Lee famously said “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” It is in the practice, the repetition, and the continuous doing that quantity and quality converge.