It is up to us now to tap into our natural proclivity for collaboration to solve climate change. Our daily living is an art, a constant creative, collective endeavor that we accomplish through listening and responding, through generosity and curiosity, through play. If we channel these skills in our efforts to reorganize society and sustain life, we will form powerful coalitions with more ease. We ought to study the art of improvisation, in all disciplines, from the scholarship available to the experience itself, to learn more about how to pursue our collaborative nature.
Once we begin to foster diversity and connection, we will have the foundation to collaborate like our biosphere, embracing our individuality and dynamism while remaining critically connected. Like wild organisms, we can learn to work
together with fluency and intuitive genius, finding ways to live and
operate society that work with our planet. And like the humans we
are, we can utilize our imaginations, our empathy and our knack for
cooperation to truly change society.
We’ve seen humans do this. While they
aren’t building new technologies or solving global inequality,
improvising actors or musicians prove that humans have an incredible
capacity to connect and create when deeply in tune with each other. Through
a shared sense of power and purpose, acute listening and support, skill in their craft, and
strong intuition, good improvisers produce seemingly genius performances. Jazz icons like Charlie
Parker, Miles Davis, and Louis Armstrong, have changed music forever. If the rest of us start taking the same approach
to collaboration and develop similar levels of mutual awareness, creativity and skill in our field, who’s to say we cannot
revolutionize other sects of society.
To become dynamically collaborative like this, we need to lean towards a new power structure – one that doesn’t consolidate power under certain individuals, but shares it adaptively amongst a group. By treating power as a transferable tool, allowing it to shift according to who is most suited to lead in certain conditions, we can utilize more of our strengths, and address challenges with specificity and nuance. Joanna Macy describes this structure as “power-with”[ii]. From my own experience in jazz ensembles, and from almost every conversation I’ve had with jazz musicians, this shared sense of power has proven to be integral to the success of improvised music. And while it requires a high level
of trust and mutual awareness, we humans are capable of this. In fact, we are naturally adept at it.
Our world, our universe, and all living
beings are constantly improvising and collaborating.
In spinning planets together with whatever cosmic material
available, in assembling life and ecological relationships amidst environmental
chaos, in our daily conversations, in weaving our way through crowds. Whether or not we acknowledge it,
we are constantly navigating complex systems by collaborating with our environment, “working as nature does,
with the material of ourselves — our body, our minds, our companions, and the radical possibilities of the present moment.”[iii]
Joint creativity is not exclusive to those who pursue it for a career — it is in our nature. As improvising musician Stephen Nachmanovitch describes,
“As I work with groups in this ancient art — no matter how often I have seen it, I continue to be stunned by how easy it is, and how high quality the result. The music composes itself. Sound and movement, gesture and word, story and color, pattern and structure emerge through the ordinary means of communication and feedback at which we are all unconsciously adept.”[iv]
adrienne maree brown envisions a collaborative society with her idea of “intentional adaptation”, in which groups gracefully move "in sync with one another, engaging in clear, consistent communication and exhibiting collective leadership and deep, deep trust,” while working towards a common goal. With clarity of purpose and
mutual awareness, they “relax into collaborative innovation… [and]
decentralization,” maximizing their collective strength. This structure
allows them to stay on course amidst changing environments.
She likens her vision to the way starlings murmur, “billowing,
diving, spinning, dancing collectively through the air” along
the way to their destination.[i]
[i] From “Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds” by A. Brown, 2017, p. 67. AK Press.
[ii] From “Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy” by J. Macy and C. Johnstone, 2012, p. 109. New World Library.
[iii] From “The Art of Is: Improvising As a Way of Life” by S. Nachmanovitch, 2019, p. 13. New World Library.
[iv] From “The Art of Is: Improvising As a Way of Life” by S. Nachmanovitch, 2019, p. 11. New World Library.