Quotations about   improvisation

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But I never was happy, never could make a good impromptu speech without several hours to prepare it.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Speech, Society of the Army of the Tennessee Annual Meeting, Chicago (12 Nov 1879)
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Twain made quips along this line several times, though there is no evidence he said the more frequently quoted "It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech." For more discussion, see here.
Added on 25-Aug-20 | Last updated 25-Aug-20
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Always in a moment of extreme danger things can be done which had previously been thought impossible. Mortal danger is an effective antidote for fixed ideas.

Erwin Rommel (1891-1944) German field marshal
The Rommel Papers, ch. 11 [ed. B. H. Liddell Hart, (1953)]
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Added on 1-Aug-17 | Last updated 1-Aug-17
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Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theater.

Gail Godwin (b. 1937) American writer
The Odd Woman, ch. 3 (1974)
Added on 2-Jun-17 | Last updated 2-Jun-17
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I’m thinking on the fly, here. (Although now that I’m in middle management I think I’m supposed to call it “refactoring the strategic value proposition in real time with agile implementation,” or, if I’m being honest, “making it up as I go along.”)

Charles "Charlie" Stross (b. 1964) British writer
The Apocalypse Codex (2012)
Added on 28-Mar-17 | Last updated 28-Mar-17
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JONES: I’m going after that truck.

SALLAH: How?

JONES: I don’t know, I’m making this up as I go.

Lawrence Kasdan (b. 1949) American screenwriter, director, producer
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) [with George Lucas, Philip Kaufman]
Added on 12-Feb-16 | Last updated 12-Feb-16
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As my dad always says, while improvisation and spontaneity may be the hallmarks of great jazz, the hallmark of being a great player is ensuring the rest of the band is spontaneously improvising the way you want them to.

Ben Aaronovitch (b. 1964) British author
Broken Homes (2013)
Added on 13-Jan-16 | Last updated 13-Jan-16
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The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.

Orson Welles (1915-1985) American writer, director, actor
Comment to Henry Jaglom

Quoted by Jaglom in his essay "The Independent Filmmaker" in Jason E. Quire, ed. The Movie Business Book (1992). See here for more information. Sometimes paraphrased in reverse ("The absence of limitations is the enemy of art").
Added on 8-Jan-15 | Last updated 8-Jan-15
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Life is like playing a violin solo in public and learning the instrument as one goes on.

Samuel Butler (1835-1902) English novelist, satirist, scholar
The Note-Books of Samuel Butler, “Speech at the Somerville Club” (27 Feb 1895) (1912)
Added on 29-Jun-11 | Last updated 5-Sep-19
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The tactical result of an engagement forms the base for new strategic decisions because victory or defeat in a battle changes the situation to such a degree that no human acumen is able to see beyond the first battle. In this sense one should understand Napoleon’s saying: “I have never had a plan of operations.” Therefore no plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force.

Helmuth von Moltke (1800-1891) Prussian soldier
“On Strategy” (1871)

Translated in Daniel J. Hughes, Harry Bell, Moltke on the Art of War: Selected Writings (1993).

Paraphrases / variants:
  • "No plan survives contact with the enemy."
  • "No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy."
Added on 15-Jan-10 | Last updated 20-Dec-19
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Life is made up of constant calls to action, and we seldom have time for more than hastily contrived answers.

Learned Hand (1872-1961) American jurist
Speech in New York (27 Jan 1952)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 17-Nov-17
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Life is like music, it must be composed by ear, feeling and instinct, not by rule. Nevertheless one had better know the rules, for they sometimes guide in doubtful cases, though not often.

Samuel Butler (1835-1902) English novelist, satirist, scholar
The Note-Books of Samuel Butler, ch. 1, “Life” (1912)
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Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 5-Sep-19
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Life is the art of drawing sufficient conclusions from insufficient premises.

Samuel Butler (1835-1902) English novelist, satirist, scholar
The Note-Books of Samuel Butler, ch. 1 “Life,” ix (1912)

Full text.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 5-Sep-19
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