An oxygen tank in the service module of the ill-fated Apollo 13 space capsule ruptured and the astronauts were slowly asphyxiating from a build up carbon dioxide gas. The NASA engineers on the ground in Houston were tasked with creating a filtration system using only the materials that were available to the Apollo 13 astronauts. Duct Tape, tube socks, plastic moon rock bags, log book cardboard, and other limited assets were used to successfully construct an apparatus that saved the astronauts.
This is an example of “Bricolage”, a word derived from the French that carries the connotation of tinkering and doing odd jobs. It’s the creation of something useful using only the resources that happen to be at hand. It is the epitome of “thinking inside the box” and stretching the limits of what you can accomplish there. We all have parameters based on who we are as unique individuals. We have to make the most of the “box” we find ourselves. We have to practice bricolage.
Living in uncertainty and change can seem like we are living unscripted and unrehearsed lives. Professionals who are good at improv comedy come to the stage open to the surprises of the moment. They are masters of spontaneity and ad lib because they’ve learned to do much with little by practicing the techniques of improve, and by extension bricolage.
- Move the Scene Forward. Improvisation uses the immediate scene at hand and uses its plot line to move the story forward. Those who practice bricolage accept the scene they are in, find an opening in it, and exploit it to move their circumstances in directions they intend.
- Trust your gut. Improvisational actors don’t hesitate to make decisions in the moment. They trust their gut. They go with their instinct and express it spontaneously. They don’t let fear and self-consciousness dictate their direction, nor do the belabor a decision to act.
- Say “Yes, And…” This is a technique essential to bricolage. The first actor makes a suggestion or statement and the second actor builds upon it by saying “yes, and…” It’s all about accepting what others have to offer. Don’t discount something because it’s something you never encountered before. Keep learning, keep exploring, work with the contributions of others.
- Play to the top of your intelligence. Jerry Seinfeld said that raunchy comedy is lazy comedy. It’s easy to throw in expletives and dirty jokes often at the expense of the show. Those who practice bricolage to effectively engage tough times play to their best material and strengths.
What ideas do you have for practicing bricolage to engage the tough challenges today?