More than Semantics

In Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses "No, But" Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration The Second City Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorton highlight the difference in meaning between the terms team and ensemble.

Team is a number of persons forming one of the sides in a game or contest, implying competition. We use the term often in organizations to address groups, yet we are rarely aware of the nuances inherent in the meaning.

Ensemble is all the parts of a thing taken together so that each part is considered only in relation to the whole. It is an entity that exists only when its members perform as one.

I was reminded of the differences and the value of using language that is appropriate to the circumstances in reading this quote by Roman satirist Petronius Arbiter [via Shane Parrish]:

“We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form into teams we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing, and what a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.”

An important aspect of the key improvisational technique “Yes, And” is that it is not a panacea — it should not replace a reasoned no where it makes sense, and it isn't a substitute for discretion or quality and is not always used for good. Action at all costs can be costly, especially without doing our homework to understand the problem first.

Yet, often and especially under pressure, we subtract ourselves from taking responsibility for making decisions, go with the flow, or take someone's advice, without weighing its merits as applied to our situation. Part of the challenge is that making choices is difficult because we may be under the influence of emotion and thus our vision is clouded and instead of seeking clarity, we seek reassurance.

Solving problems is more valuable than just doing something, and it's important to remember to separate issue from emotion to answer the right questions. In the words of Spinoza:

“An emotion, which is a passion, ceases to be a passion when one has a clear and distinct view of it.”

There is no taking sides in ensemble. Performing as part of a whole carries no such baggage and meets the need for adapting and expanding capacity.


[image drowning in a sea of emoji via Flickr user forresto]