Are You a Sword or a Swiss Army Knife

I have diverse interests. I love learning new skills. I push myself to discover and try new things.

Just recently, I’ve started learning more about design and design programs, I wrote a book, I am figuring out everything there is to know about podcasting (potential spoilers!), I (disappointingly) rediscovered Magic: The Gathering, there’s this blog, and of course, I have to make time for the hobby that started it all, improv.

But what I am bad at is being OK with sucking at the vast majority of these new endeavors, especially when I’m just starting out.

And while the popular “10,000 Hour Rule” may not be entirely accurate, it’s common sense that to be good (not the best, but good) at anything, you need to spend time practicing.

When it comes to improv, or any other group activity from crocheting to kickball, there are naturally two types of people in two competing (non-permanent) states of being: The Sword and The Swiss Army Knife.

A sword has one function – the ol’ hack-and-slash – and the sword does it well.

A Swiss army knife is competent at a number of functions – cutting, tweezing, filing, sawing, and even getting an annoying, stringy bit of corn out of your teeth. But the Swiss army knife is only competent at any of these tasks.

While the sword can never be a toothpick (unless you’re very, very brave), there’s a reason Hercules didn’t square off against the Hydra with a Swiss army knife.

Any improv team that has fallen apart runs into this problem. The Swords live and breathe improv. They want to be the best. The Swiss Army Knives like improv, but they also like design, blogging, and Magic: The Gathering. Perhaps a team unintentionally starts with a mixture of both or, over time, life gets in the way and shrinks swords into knives.

Between these varying levels of commitment and differing expectations, it’s impossible to hold a team together.

If you’re a Sword in a group of Swiss Army Knives, you’re going to find that no one is as dedicated as you think they should be. If you’re in the opposite situation, you’ll be annoyed that everyone else is so demanding.

When you know which camp you fall into, it’s much easier to form an improv team because you all have the same expectations. You can assemble the team that’s serious about improving or the team enjoys the occasional pick up show as long as everyone is on the same page.

Throughout my improv career, I’ve almost always been the Sword. Lately, though, I’m starting to feel like the Swiss Army Knife. And while I used to look down on my Swiss Army Knife brethren, I’m learning that neither approach is right or wrong. It just depends on what makes you happy.

You just have to remember that while you’re running around trying five different things, there’s probably a reason the Swiss aren’t known for all the wars they’ve won.


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