My Masters dissertation on improv in business was entitled “Can Scorpions Smoke?” – a question that came from a particularly blank moment I had in an improv scene.  A fellow performer suggested that I should make that the name of the paper and I loved the idea of such a title standing out in the Ashridge directory as being a bit of an anomaly!

The majority of my dissertation was written on the back of reflecting in great detail on 150 seconds of my life that I had journalled, recorded or videoed to see if I could identify what enabled or constrained my ability to improvise in the corporate world.  (I was inspired to do this by William Blake’s suggestion of “seeing the world in a grain of sand”.)  I was amazed at how much information about myself I was able to distill from such a short period of time – in particular, three big patterns of behaviour/habits that inhibited my spontaneity in the corporate workplace…

1) Power, status, the need for affirmation and my own sense of self
I realised the increased risk of being spontaneous in situations where I perceived a large power differential and some of my habitual projections of power onto particular people (especially older ‘wiser-looking’ males).  I realised that in these situations, instead of being my spontaneous self that I would ‘script’ my interactions to maximise my chance of receiving affection and to have my sense of self affirmed.   I also realised that power and status are not things that people have but are things that people do that are reinforced by others acting into it.

2) Trusting my own spontaneous self
I realised that part of what inhibits me was simply not knowing and trusting my spontaneous self – part of me that I probably last trusted when I was around 5 or 6 years old.   I realised that, as Keith Johnstone once said, getting over my own fear of being mad, bad or wrong were key to starting to trust myself and realising that my spontaneity was inhibited by scripting my interactions to come across as sane, good and right!  Through improv classes and experimenting in my work I’ve became better able to start to trust my spontaneous self more and realised I’m not actually as mad, bad or wrong than I may have feared.

3) Trusting the body and senses
I realised my habit was to try and think myself out of trouble and I later realised through improv classes that this is the one way to guarantee getting stuck.   After some wonderful conversations with body experts I began to realise how intelligent the body is and how, when trusted, it can be a source of great personal awareness.  I learnt that the body and the senses are naturally spontaneous and that trusting them to take the lead (especially in an improv scene) is a great way to get unstuck and come up with something new and creative.

And as to the BIG question whether scorpions can smoke or not?  A wonderful response from the London Natural History museum answered that one…

Our ref: IAS 2011-1969
Dear Mr Chapman,

Thank you for contacting The Natural History Museum.  The answer to your question is no, scorpions can’t smoke. A large scorpion would be able to physically a) grab a cigarette in its pincers and b) move it towards its mouth. For more details about scorpion anatomy and names for body parts, please read Wikipedia article here:

However, the scorpion wouldn’t be able to c) inhale and exhale smoke from the cigarette, because scorpions have a different respiratory system than ours. The ‘lungs’ (please see Wikipedia article for book lungs here: are situated in the abdomen, not in the cephalothorax. They don’t communicate with the mouth. Scorpions don’t inhale anyway, as the insects do inflating and deflating their abdomen. The book lungs work fine without a ventilation system.

I hope you will find this information useful.

Best wishes
Florin Feneru

Identification and Advisory Service
Angela Marmont Centre for UK BiodiversitThe Natural History MuseumCromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, U.K.

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