One Word Suggestion: Hippos

Welcome to One Word Suggestion.

Most people think improv is just for comedy or jazz music. But it’s also a tool for life. In each three minute episode of this series I use a single word, suggested by you, as a leaping off point to explore how having an improvisational mindset will help you perform at a higher level, both personally and professionally, whether you have a career on or off the stage.

This week’s word, hippos, was suggested by Reddit user, Mrs. Claus.

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Most everyone knows who Pablo Escobar is, but what many people don’t know is that his enduring legacy has less to do with cocaine and more to do with hippopotamuses.

In the late 1980s, the infamous Colombian drug lord smuggled four African hippos into a private menagerie at his palatial residence in the town of Puerto Triunfo. After Escobar’s death in 1993, the hippos were deemed too difficult to seize and move, and so they were left to roam freely on the untended estate.

Twenty-five years later, their numbers had multiplied. Nearly seventy hippos were reported. All from the original four belonging to Escobar.

The beasts have since taken over the entire area. And without management, the population size is likely to more than double in the next decade. The situation is so serious, National Geographic made a documentary about it called “Cocaine Hippos.”

Sadly there are no scenes of hippos getting high on Pablo’s supply.

In addition to being an expert animal smuggler, another thing people may not know about Pablo is that he was also a fantastic improviser.

One day he was mixing cocaine with fish paste so it would go undetected by sniffer dogs. The next he was modifying planes to secret away more stash, or building stealthy submarines. When he got caught, he designed his own jail, (that he later escaped from). And he was always coming up with new ways to launder money — and to bribe everyone. He even influenced politicians to make extradition from Columbia near to impossible.

Every time the DEA or CIA would get close he’d improvise a new way forward.

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Just like any good improviser he was constantly reacting to unexpected situations, adapting to deal with new information, and communicating revised plans to his team.

And people loved him for it. Not just party people, but a nation.

When he died, twenty-five thousand people attended his funeral. Despite all the lives he ruined, he was Robin Hood-esque when it came to enriching the lives of Columbians, most famously for building schools in poor towns.

Like Puerto Triunfo.

Most people in Pablo’s old neighbourhood have since grown fond of their hippo interlopers. Despite an isolated instance where a couple of rowdy beasts chased a few locals around, the arguably cute animals have transformed the town into a tourist destination, creating a thriving new economy and local environmentalists are campaigning hard to protect the herd.

And in the meantime, they continue to expand their numbers.

Sort of like improvisers.

Because word is getting out. People are discovering the joy of improv, not only as a theatrical art form, but as a tool for life.

The soft skills that come as a by-product of improv training are powerful.

For listening, for collaboration, for innovation, for communication, for thinking on your feet, for being in the moment, for being more comfortable sharing your authentic self with the world, and more.

It’s no wonder our herd is expanding too.

And if you’re not already, I invite you to become a part of it.

So that’s my take on hippos.

Thanks for the great suggestion, Mrs. Claus.

If you want to suggest a word for next week, or add your perspective, drop me a note in the comments or in a review. I’m making one of these every week, for a year, so definitely subscribe, like, share, and all that jazz.

Or better yet, listen to the podcast.

And in the meantime, if you’re interested in improv for personal growth, professional achievement, or just for fun, my suggestion is to get yourself into an improv class or book a corporate training workshop for your team.

You can learn all about LMA’s programs at www.lma.training

Eran Thomson is the Founder of Zuper Superannuation, Laugh-Masters Academy, LMA Professional Development, Comedy & Co, and the Australian Improv Festival.

The One Word Suggestion podcast with Eran Thomson

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