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Whose Course Is It Anyway?

IMPRO LEARNING by Paul Z Jackson, Gower, 209pp, £42.50

Review by Mark McKergow

"How to make your training creative, flexible and spontaneous" is the subtitle, and indeed the aim, of this new release from arch-training-publishers Gower. It's not specifically an NLP book, although NLP is mentioned from time to time in a fairly well-informed manner. However, there is a great deal of excellent wisdom about training here which would serve any trainer well. NLP trainers will find some splendidly different ideas here along with some familiar ground.

Jackson's background as a BBC producer and a journalist serves him well. Not only is this book unusually well crafted, but he brings his experience of working with leading impro comedy performers like the London-based Comedy Store Players (Paul Merton, Josie Lawrence et al). The basic thread of the book is the parallel between designing and running a training event and performing "impro". Jackson manages to address this parallel philosophically as well as practically, resulting in a book which will satisfy a range of audiences (trainers, HR staff, performers, people people) at different levels - no mean feat. As such, this is a rare beast - a book that says something genuinely new.

The book takes us through the various roles of the trainer - setting things up, bonding the group, acting as a model for the learners, setting goals and supports, creating novel activities, keeping the group's (and their own) energy up, drawing out resources from participants, and being spontaneous through to the final "performance" and subsequent reviews. NLP trainers may particularly enjoy the variety of thoughts and practical suggestions in the book, all of which would fit well into NLP contexts. I personally enjoyed Jackson's sections on the impression of confidence (a bit like anchoring without anchors) and spontaneity - these tricky subjects are dealt with simply yet subtly.

Impro Learning is unusually well-crafted as a piece of writing. Jackson's journalism background is an asset, and the words are well chosen, clear and at times unexpectedly witty in a rather understated British way. This allows the author to cram a great deal into his 200-odd pages. There is a great further reading list, along with full references and an index. The only potential downside is the rapidity with which Jackson leaps from, for instance, the philosophy of rule-based games to some basic discussion of icebreaker exercises - I was occasionally left dizzy, but elated by the melange. The price (£42.50) is outrageous, as with many of Gower's books which are clearly aimed at corporate training departments with budgets to match. However, it's only rarely that a really new idea appears in print, and this is worth a place on any discerning trainer's bookshelf.