Feeling out of place

I'm currently reading Keith Johnstone's book on Impro, and my friend Dougald pointed me towards this interview with him. He's written so many interesting things about creativity and spontaneity which chime greatly with my ideas on doing things badly. It's often our desire to be 'right' that self-censors all the crazy things that float into our heads and makes us deliberately dull and predictable. (Incidentally, in the book he also talks about how this process is as much about keeping up the 'pretence' of sanity by hiding all the crazy, unpredictable elements of our minds for fear of being excluded from the group - which with my Mindapples hat on I find particularly interesting.)

One quote I particularly liked was this:
"If you make a mistake in public and stay happy, they like you."
In a great deal of performance work, and therefore in many situations where we feel under pressure or required to 'perform', the worst thing we can do if we fail is to worry about it. It makes people feel uncomfortable. We condition the social space around us by our behaviour, and if we feel bad, we make others feel bad. But if we feel good (unless we've done something really bad), people will forgive us our failings. It's lovely to see people with a "total lack of self-punishment", they lighten our modd and brighten our days. In certain situations, our attitude matters more than our actions.

This might seem a minor point, but it connects to something bigger that I've noticed over the past couple of years. In the past I used to worry that I had no right to be in certain meetings or situations, because I didn't have the right kind of experience, skill or character - in effect, because I didn't fit in. But then, a friend of mine told me about a meeting of his local NHS Trust, in which a patient-representative announced that, due to his schizophrenia, in some meetings he might make no sense, or scream at them, or say something totally ridiculous - and they all had to accept it, because his perspective needed to be represented.

This was a whole new approach that I hadn't seen before. If you sense that you don't 'fit in' somewhere, the immediate reaction is to feel out of place and uncomfortable, but it can actually mean you bring a unique and valuable perspective that gives you great power and influence. If we feel ashamed of our difference because we 'shouldn't be here', then we will transmit that attitude to our neighbours and, before you know it, we are excluded from the conversation.

But if you can walk into somewhere you feel out of place and turn that into a positive, then the scope of what you can accomplish becomes vast. One of my business heroes, Tim Smit of the Eden Project, says yes to inappropriate invitations because "you can learn loads from being in the wrong place". So now when I'm in a situation where I have to perform, and I feel like I don't fit in, I think: "I don't fit in here - which is exactly why I can contribute something unique." And once I started saying that, the world got a little bit larger.

I suspect most of the worst and stupidest decisions in history have been taken in rooms where normal people weren't welcome. I'm passionate about breaking down this need for permission for us to contribute our individual perspectives. If there is a political purpose to my work, it is to put more people in the wrong places - to open up all those closed conversations to include all the relevant perspectives, to give people access to things which on paper they would be excluded from, and to help people speak from their hearts without feeling they have to "act the part". Let's all contribute our unique 'wrongness' to the world, and then maybe we will make better decisions and design a more inclusive, sociable society.