Bhutan is a tiny country with a big heart. One of their claims to world fame is the adoption of the concept of “Gross National Happiness” as the governmental measure of all things good. The quality of life is prized over material wealth. When I visited this cultural paradise in 2011 I kept noticing an image that was everywhere. It’s the picture of “The Four Harmonious Friends” and it’s a symbol of the importance of cooperation. I brought home a hand painted thanka with this image because I wanted to be reminded of this story. The values represented in the image are of key importance to the Bhutanese. It is often seen in Buddhist iconography as shown here.
The story of the four friends recounts how working together can produce not only harmony but also sustenance. Their combined forces allow them to obtain a continual supply of food. The peacock on top first found a seed and planted it in the earth. The rabbit watered it, the monkey fertilized it and the elephant guarded it. When the fruit was ripe the tree was so high that no one could not reach the top on his own. The four animals made a tower by climbing on one another’s backs, and plucked the fruit from the high branches. Then they shared the bounty.
Teamwork leverages both individual gifts as well as acts of cooperation. As an improv teacher I am often called upon to help cultivate and develop teams.
It is often a focus in the study and practice of improvisation. In their recent bestseller Team Genius, Rich Karlgaard and Michael Malone’s make the scientific claim that teams with diversity are more likely to perform successfully. The quality most needed in our changeable world is that of maneuverability. In their words: “Maneuverability is the capacity to turn, even reverse direction, quickly, to deal competently with whatever new change—technology, market opportunity, or competition—has just burst onto the scene, and to do so without losing internal cohesion and breaking up.” (p. 70)
Improv teaches maneuverability. Scenes and stories happen in real time and actors must be alert to new directions; they must change on the dime in order to make sense out of the moment. There is no time to stop and have a committee meeting to vote on some possible future. Improvisers create the future in real time, using their individual gifts and talents while pulling together to “get to the top of the tree to pluck the fruit.”