Once More, In Half the Time

I apologize for the length of this letter, but I didn’t have time to make it shorter. – Mark Twain

Twain was referring to the fact that refining something down to it’s essence takes iteration. Each iteration abbreviates the time necessary to produce and consume the item. I offer the Van Buren Law of Iteration:

t^n = (t^(n-1)) / 2


t = time for a given task
n = the iteration

I’ve written about the similarity between collaborative work and Improvisational Comedy before (Stop Asking Questions, Yes, and – not But, Want Better Collaboration Improvise). In this installment, I’d like to discuss the the Improv training game Scene Replay.

  1. Start a scene.
  2. Improvise for about 3 minutes.
  3. Replay entire the scene in half the previous time.

With each successive repetition, more of the uninteresting bits are automatically edited out and the scene becomes more engaging and entertaining. The first attempt takes the longest because those involved are discovering what needs to happen. After the third and fourth attempts, everyone knows what works, where the engaging parts are and the transitions between them. The same procedure works for any type of knowledge work.

Think of a small work-related disaster, an unsaved file getting corrupted – and becoming unsuable, for example. Revising the document again, will take far less time than originally because you know exactly which changes to make. You can cut out all the unsuccessful bits – getting to the good stuff, making it better, and getting done more quickly. The thinking parts are done – it’s all about execution now.

How do you implement the Van Buren Law of Iteration?
A quick way is the following exercise:

  1. Take 5 minutes to tell a good – patient – friend a story.
  2. After you’ve completed the story – tell it to them in 2.5 minutes.
  3. Repeat until you can tell the entire story in a single sentence.

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