How to deal with fear of the unknown so work can be fun

Fear of the unknown is one of the great performance killers. It doesn’t have to be.

Embrace the Fear

We’ve got a choice. We can freeze. Or flee. Or fight.  Most of us clench our jaw, grit our teeth, hold our breath, and try to face down the fear.

That’s the circumstance in which fear compromises our judgement, makes us touchy and reactive, burns us out.

What other choice have we got. We’ve got the hard choice. We can embrace fear. Decide it’s our friend.

Transform the Fear

Disarm Fear of the Unknown

Fear of the unknown can lose its teeth when we limit what aspects are unknown. When we can assure and reassure one another… We’re a team. I’ve got your back. You may falter, but we will not allow you to fall… When those are the circumstances, that’s enough that’s known to take the unknown in stride.

 

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Your team’s response to the unknown is a success-level determining aspect of culture. Culture shapes and defines the destiny of your company. Adeptability Training helps build the got-your-back culture that supports communication, collaboration, and innovation. And fun. Book a call today.

 

P.S. For another great insight into how to embrace the fear, gotta love this from Simon Sinek. “I wasn’t nervous. I was excited.”


Powerful Networking Approach for Sales - And for Everything Else

I’ve learned some things about networking in recent years that I wish I’d known a long time ago.

LOST OPPORTUNITY

If I’d known 20 years ago, I’d be rich now, and my work-life (which I’ve liked) would have been more fulfilling. Networking is different from prospecting. (And, by the way, even my prospecting looks more now like networking than simply looking for business.)

When I go to a networking event, I hope I’ll meet people with whom I’ll be able to do business. Doing business is how I eat. Most people “do networking” from within that hope. And they hate networking. And therefore, networking doesn’t work for most people like it works for those few high performers who seem to close business out of nowhere without breaking a sweat.

I used to suck at networking. I didn’t understand that in order to be effective, networking must be separate from the hope that it’ll lead to business.

We’re told, “add value,” and, “just meet people.” We’re told, “Ask people about themselves.” We’re admonished, “Don’t be pushy.” And, “Be authentic, genuine.” Almost nobody tells us how, or even what those things mean. They don’t tell us that when we try to be authentic, the trying prohibits authenticity.

We don’t know that when we speak with people while holding a specific hope, we come off desperate and turn people off. In fact, many of your sales managers push you to close sales in a way that breeds feelings of desperation and prevents you from building rapport and closing business. No one tells us what to do with the profound desire to get business and make money.

THE HIGH PERFORMER’S DIFFERENCE

The highest performers are driven by the desire to make money, and they don’t allow that desire to co-opt their conversations. Their conversations are about people, and about being of help. Their conversations are not about how they’ll make quota.

The key is to step aside from hope when talking with others — whether in a sales conversation or simply networking. You can hope, of course. Don’t let me take that away from you. Heck, you can’t help it. To hope is human. Just let hope be a passenger, not a driver. You may have heard the adage, “Hope is not a strategy.” Hope isn’t a healthy relationship driver either.

Drive your networking and your connecting instead with faith. Hope is specific. I hope you like me. I hope you’re a good prospect for me. I hope we can do business. I really hope I leave this event with at least one strong lead. It’s pretty easy to have your hopes dashed. So it’s pretty easy to come across as desperate or manipulative — salesy — as you pursue your hopes.

Faith is more general. It’s not so easily dashed. I have faith that if I do the right things, I’ll be successful. I have faith that if I help whomever is in front of me, some people I help will want what I sell, and want it from me. I have faith that I’ll close deals, even if I don’t close the particular deal in front of me now. I have faith that the deals I do close will be with the right people for the right reasons at the right time.

The profound connections I make with people through that authentic, calm, confident standpoint will lead to more business. When I do go to close the deal, with faith as my context, I’ll close because it’s the best way to help the prospect, not because I need the sale.


A STORY

This morning, Thomas Tomasevic, an accountability buddy of mine asked, “How was the networking event you went to last night?”

I spent two hours in a large room full of business people and left without a single substantial lead. I did not gain even one prospect who’s likely to ever buy the training packages that are my bread and butter.

It was one of the absolute best nights of networking of my life.

I told Thomas about every substantial conversation I had last night. Here, edited just a bit for clarity, is the email I sent him recounting my great success. (In parenthesis below, is a bit of commentary I’m adding now.)

8 STRATEGIES TO POWER-UP YOUR NETWORKING

What I did all in one very fruitful evening:

1. Remember people who aren’t there.

I met two people who mentioned they do business with maritime clients – I’m connecting them with an excellent maritime photographer I know. (That adds value to the people I met since they can refer their clients to a resource. It adds value to photographer Mihael Blikshteyn because he may get business through my recommendation.)

2. Compliment people where you see strengths they don’t.

One of the people I’m connecting with Mihael is an attorney who feels she is, “not good with people…” But she can be. Based on my experience — she was good with me — I told her, “You’re better with people than you think.” (I was being honest. She could sense that. That adds value to her by starting to replace a limiting belief that she told me hampers her ability to attract new business.)

3. Your network is like your brain. It’s not just about making new connections. Strengthen existing ones too.

I ran into at least five people I already knew and deepened those connections: I impressed one with the value I gave to someone else by shifting her perspective and offering to help with a problem she was facing. I promised another person whose services I’d used that I’d make a LinkedIn recommendation of praise I’d emailed to him privately. With another, I talked about valuable sources of content online, and we traded valuable business boosting resources. The fourth, I smiled at, shook his hand, and told him I’d missed him at the last Wednesday morning meeting we both frequently attend. With the fifth, I asked if he’d done business with a lead I’d sent his way that wasn’t a fit for my company, and asked if there was anything I could do to help with that lead.

4. Trite as it is, look for the win-win (and the win-win-win).

I met the corporate giving manager of a major Seattle theater, and started the relationship off strong. I shared with her my passion for theater, and agreed to mention her and her theater to leaders I meet who care about the arts. She agreed to send me podcast guests for “Mighty Good Work“. (That’s good for both of us. By introducing them to me, her donors get a free platform to tell their stories. I get a shortcut to creating the content my listeners want, and I expand the network of leaders I’m connected to.)

This was her first Seattle Chamber event, and she asked me if I thought they’d be useful to her. I gave her some counsel about how to approach choosing which events to attend and how to meet the C-Suite folks in the crowd who can help her expand her network of leaders and grow her donor base.

5. Make promises that you will later keep. Think long term.

I met a young guy from Boeing whose job I didn’t understand. He gave me some insight about selling into Boeing. He’s going to be looking for a new position, and I told him to reach out when he starts. (I’ll gladly help him land in a great situation for him. I’m glad to know a little more about how to succeed in pitching Boeing.)

6. People love help. They love to give it. They love to get it. Create relationships between others where there’s no direct benefit to you.

I met a young woman who’s a financial advisor. I helped her shift her thinking about sales from, “I must convince them,” to, “I must simply support and offer expertise – educating without judgment.” She’ll grow her business by being valuable, gaining trust, and building rapport without raising people’s defenses. She heaved a sigh of relief to have a new, more authentic way of thinking about sales. I learned she’s feeling daunted and lonely in the male dominant field. I promised to connect her with a dynamic woman who’s an experienced veteran in the same industry who will enjoy being a mentor to her. (This connection is already made, and they are both grateful for the opportunity to get to know one another. They’ll be talking in a few days.)

7. Help build others’ businesses.

The venue this event was held in had a unique character – I sought out the event sales person for the venue, and promised to connect her with a significant Seattle event planner I know who’s never held an event there, but who will appreciate the character of the venue. (Both the venue and the event planner will derive value — one gets new business. The other has new inventory to offer her clients that’s unique in the marketplace.)

8. Recognize opportunity.

The manager of programs and partnerships at the Seattle Chamber saw me in passing, and I smiled and said, “Hi!” Unprompted, she promised to call me next month. She’d like to have me give a presentation or two at upcoming chamber events.


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A PERSPECTIVE

I’m likely to get no business directly from any of the connections I made last night. Even so, I view it as one of my most successful nights of networking. I didn’t change the world. Not their worlds, and not mine.

A different KPI

And… The number of people upon whom I made a positive impression… The number of people for whom I made a notable difference… That’s the KPI by which I’m measuring my success and giving my performance full marks. I’m still trying to give value as a result of the evening. You may have noticed all the links in this post helping you find the people I met.

All connections are good connections. They’re all promising connections. You never know what’ll come of the seeds of goodwill sewn indiscriminately.

And, I had fun. I felt very few moments of self-consciousness all night.

Escape Self-Consciousness

Some people are very self-conscious about networking, about approaching strangers, about telling people what they do, and about asking for business. Until recently, I was self-conscious about all that.

The opposite of self-conscious is you-conscious. Be conscious of the other person and how you can help them. It’s an easier approach, free of self-consciousness, if you begin each encounter with the thought, “Who are you? How can I help?”

Cultivate Gratitude

There’s a reason a book entitled The Go Giver is so popular among top performers. Gratitude is a currency.

Are you building and banking gratitude in your network? What shifts do you need to make to your expectations and intentions around networking in order to enjoy it more and to provide more value? Are you approaching your business relationships from an improviser’s mentality — where your plan is specific enough to drive your behavior, and open enough to accommodate serendipity and allow you to recognize subtle opportunities?

Resolve to put some gratitude in the bank today, and tomorrow. And tomorrow.


Make a friend. Almost kill him. Start a business together.

I made a new friend. One day, we almost killed each other. Then, we spent that afternoon together in misery. Next, we formed a company to teach others to do what we had done — at work. You can do it too at your work.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

Meeting:

Adam and I worked together once, years ago, on a project for two months. It was great. Won some critical acclaim. Was beloved by a small number of fans. And ultimately, it failed commercially. Some time later, we entered a competition together (along with some others) with a weekends’ project, had some fun, and won an award. I liked working with Adam. I thought there was potential for a friendship there, so I asked him on an adventure.

“Let’s go on a half-day canoe trip together, Adam. Something local. I’ll meet you at the river.”

On the trip, we almost killed each other. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

“The mindset that improv training breeds is kind, empathetic, resourceful, observant, responsive, innovative, and resilient. Imagine for a moment that every boss you’ve ever had, every coworker, everyone who has ever reported to you was kind, empathetic, resourceful, observant, responsive, innovative, and resilient. Imagine what you could have accomplished together.”

Adventure:

We met relatively early in the morning at a gas station. He followed me in his car to the downriver site where we’d end our morning’s paddle. And then, we drove my car to the upriver site where we put the canoe in the water. After a couple of hours of pleasant, enjoyable calm flat water, punctuated by the occasional mild, short, fun rapids, we came to a bigger rapid, and pulled the boat to the bank to reconnoiter.

I hopped out, scrambled a ways down the bank, climbed up on some rocks and debris, and scoped out the rapid. It was fast, turbulent water, but the chute through the rapid was uncomplicated and clear of any major obstacles. I nodded, returned to Adam, and said, “Let’s do this.”

He replied, “I don’t know.”

“I think we can do it,” I said. “Bigger, but not harder, than what we’ve already done.”

Then I reminded him of a few key techniques for navigating the rapid successfully and what to do if we capsized (I was the experienced paddler in the boat), and we pushed off the bank.

The first half of the rapid was a thrilling, easy, straight shot. We came to the first of two slight adjustments we’d have to make before reaching calm water again, and Adam leaned right when he should have leaned left. We took on water. The boat rode lower, and within one second we were capsized. For a few seconds, I shouted instructions to Adam. “Hang onto your paddle! Feet downstream! See you at the bottom! Left bank!” Neither one of us knows if he heard any of that.

Disaster:

The next thing I knew, my ankle got caught between two boulders. I swung around head downstream, foot pinned, face up in the heavy water. And the torrent played me like a ragdoll. I could not free my ankle. I struggled to keep my face above the water. By trying to sit up, I could just manage to bring my face to the surface long enough to gasp a breath. I did this a few times. I hadn’t been pinned more than a few seconds, I think, but I was already becoming exhausted.

If I couldn’t free my foot, I would drown very soon. But struggling as I was to earn just three breaths, I was losing strength, and hadn’t made any progress toward freedom. I thought, “I’m going to die.” I thought of my unborn daughter growing up without a dad. So I took a breath, and gave in to the torrent. I went limp. My body did a horizontal impression of a car-dealership tube-man in the current.

I was resting.

After only a couple of seconds of that, I summoned my strength and did the hardest situp of my life. I managed the biggest breath so far, and — finally — to wrench my ankle from between the boulders that held it.

Seconds later, the rapids spit me out into the calm but swift water below. I thought, for the first time since being pinned, of Adam. I hoped he’d fared better than I had. I hoped too that he’d heard me say left bank. I swam for that bank myself, exhausted.

By coincidence or by design, Adam had also found the left bank. We found each other, and took stock.

Our paddles were gone. Our boat was gone. Adam had seen it destroy itself against a rock, turning inside out and wrapping around the boulder under the immense pressure of the water. Our food was gone. Hats gone. Almost everything was gone. Drinking water, gone. Adam’s shoes, gone.

I still had my wallet. Still had my keys. Both of us, somehow, had managed to keep our smartphones, and to keep them dry.

The phones turned on, but there was no reception. So we climbed a small but steep hill beside the river.We were somewhere inside Fort Lewis Army Base, and there were no buildings, or paths or other man-made anythings to be seen, even from the hill. The bank was impassable. The river too swift and cold to float the afternoon in. And we could not place a call. Google maps did, however, give us some slight indication of our location and of directions. We identified a possible road on the map and planned to walk there. It was not very near.

Adam’s shoes were gone, and his bare feet already hurt after the small amount of walking we’d done. I gave him my sandals and went barefoot.

Ordeal:

We tried to walk in the direction of the road or path that the map had indicated. It wasn’t easy to do. The forest around us was all but impenetrable. Every foot of progress was hard won through undergrowth and brambles. We zigzagged our way in the general direction we wanted to go by walking along fallen logs whenever we could. They provided paths through the bramble.

The afternoon became hot, and we wished we had water. We became quite fatigued. The landscape of small hills and valleys was difficult. The bramble nearly impossible.

Eventually, we reached my wife by phone and tried to describe the spot we were trying to reach — and told her it was within Fort Lewis. Could she call someone to meet us there — or try to meet us there herself?

We lost reception.

When we regained reception, we learned she’d gotten permission to drive into this remote section of the base to try to find us.

We pushed on. I lost my wallet, and spent some time and energy looking for it, retracing my steps a small distance. I could not tell where I had been, could not see my own path, so I gave up on my wallet, and we pressed on again.

Finally, we came in to a valley we believed our road ran along. But there was no road. So we pressed on, until…

Salvation:

I don’t know whether I saw or heard her first. Bless her, my wife had found our road, driven along it as far as she could, and then, when the road became impassible to the car, she’d left the car to find us on foot. She’d brought water.

Rejuvenated, somewhat, by the arrival of our rescuer, and by the rehydration, we quickened our pace and reached the car.

With the worst of the ordeal behind me, I decided and told Adam, “Now that we’re safe, and only in retrospect, that was kind of fun.”

“Not my idea of fun,” said Adam (a guy who’s run the Tough Mudder because that is his idea of fun).

Retrospect:

That’s when something began to dawn on me. “Not my idea of fun,” was the most negative thing Adam had said all day.

We’d stood on the bank of that river, nearly drowned, already exhausted by the ordeal in the rapids, with no way back to civilization, without water, and facing hours of greater ordeal in the heat of the afternoon. Adam had leaned left when he should have leaned right. I’d taken us into a rapid that I should not have attempted with Adam’s level of experience and confidence. We stood there on the bank facing trouble, but not emergency.

There were lots of conversations we could have had on that bank. Either of us could have blamed the other, shouted, pointed, and cursed. Either of us could have sat on the bank to cry. Either of us could have begun to marshal resources to support his own comfort and ease — to hell with the other guy.

Instead, we took quick stock of the situation, and began to think of the two person unit. Adam was fitter physically. I was more experienced outdoors. I had sandals. Adam’s bare feet were already hurt.

We strategized briefly. And we took immediate action to get the pair of us out of the predicament.

And the day went that way, each of us caring for the other, filling in when we could for the other’s weaknesses.

There was not a moment’s time given to sniping or to blame. We spoke occasionally of the fatigue and the dehydration, but neither of us complained. Instead, we kept the team apprised unemotionally of our slowly deteriorating state of strength and endurance. We took a moment to admire the beauty of a striking caterpillar posing on a tree trunk.

We disagreed about strategy often. At those times, we debated briefly, and one of us would defer to the other, and get completely behind the plan from that point on. We made errors that set us back. We adjusted, and still never pointed fingers.

Revelation:

We had each other’s backs, and we were united behind a single purpose.

I’d been considering a company dedicated to making work good for people. I’d seen how much ineffectiveness there is in many people’s work habits, and how many people feel beat down by work instead of fulfilled. Most people in our society don’t like work. I wanted to make a difference in that because I wanted my daughter to grow up in a culture where work is viewed as a grace and a privilege. I knew that tools and techniques from theater improv could serve to help people focus on what matters, to respond to others with empathy and purpose, and to take inspiration from the most seemingly trivial things — and therefore to like work.

Because Adam is the best improviser I know, I’d thought about asking him to join me in founding this company.

But it was because of who we were together in adversity, because of our focus on purpose, our willingness to keep going when it seemed we could not, because of the resourcefulness and commitment to purpose and team above all else… Because of those extraordinary qualities proven in a true trial of our temperaments, I knew two things.

Company Born:

First, I knew Adam was someone I could work with in the trenches. Come hell or high water, we’d be able to weather the rough seas of a startup.

Second, I knew that it was the improviser’s mentality that allowed us to maintain such equanimity, kindness, and resolve during and after such a trial. I knew we had something we could offer to the workplaces and to working-teams all over our country. And I knew we were already both experienced at teaching it.

Pair that with a life-long passion for developing leadership in myself and others… We were poised to change lives. We asked Rachel (who shares our mindset and devotion to developing it still further) to join us. She rounded out our team, and we started changing the world of work one team at a time.

Our Impact:

The mindset that improv training breeds is kind, empathetic, resourceful, observant, responsive, innovative, and resilient. Imagine for a moment that every boss you’ve ever had, every coworker, everyone who has ever reported to you was kind, empathetic, resourceful, observant, responsive, innovative, and resilient. Imagine what you could have accomplished together. Imagine the joy that would have filled your days. Imagine how you would feel on Monday morning, knowing you were heading to work to be surrounded by minds like that.

That’s why I have found my life’s work in changing lives, by changing work, by changing habits, by teaching improv dynamically correlated to the work you do.

 


Collaboration Culture is "Got Your Back" Culture

Tracy and Cal work for a company that names “Collaboration” as a core value, but no one has ever defined collaboration.

Tracy and Cal head back to their desks after the meeting. Tracy says, “Cal, You told me last month when I started working here that you were going to have my back.”

Cal says, “I did. You heard me tell them you were doing your best.”

Tracy feels hopeless. “Yeah. Exactly. Now thanks to you, they all think I’m drowning. They think my best is crappy.”

Cal asks, “What’d you want me to say?”

Tracy stops walking and says, “Where were you last week to help insure I was better prepared for that meeting before I put my foot in it? You knew I was on the wrong track and you did nothing. You call that collaboration?”

What does collaboration mean?

The expression, “Got your back,” means different things to different people.

In some of the teams I’ve worked with, there’s very little agreement as to the meaning. Tracy feels hung out to dry while Cal knows he’s got her back. Often, the argument is not so much about the facts of who’s doing what, but about what it means to truly have your teammate’s back.

This is something I give a lot of thought to. “Got Your Back” is a central principle in every training program conducted by my company, The Yes Works. Our Adeptability Training is built on principles from neuroscience, organizational psychology, improvisation, and best practices in leadership practice. We help teams to function at higher and higher levels of teamishness through exceptionally collaborative relationships. “Got Your Back” (which we describe as making your teammates look good — and be good) is one of my favorites among those principles. Everyone can always improve in their practice of it.

Ultimate Got-Your-Back, Ultimate Collaboration

As Lon, a recent acquaintance of mine, told me today over coffee, “I ask myself, ‘who do I need to be to amplify my wife’s best?’ And she asks herself, ‘Who do I need to be to amplify Lon’s best?’” That’s not a question with one simple answer. And it’s a question of a higher level than most use when considering how to have a team mate’s back in collaboration.

Colleagues disagree about whether they’re being supportive because few teams have any specific definition of what a supportive attitude or supportive behavior looks like. I don’t have one either. I have eight. Each definition represents a different level of practice, and each level reflects a higher degree of functionality, productivity, and satisfaction on the team.

I’ve got your back:

  • Level 1: I won’t throw you under the bus. I’ve got your back.
  • Level 2: If you’re in distress and you ask me for help, I’ll agree to help. I’ve got your back.
  • Level 3: If I see that you’re in distress, I’ll stop and volunteer my help. I’ve got your back.
  • Level 4: I know where you’re likely to need help, and I’ll ask if you’re struggling and need my help. I’ve got your back. This includes looking for the inspiration in every idea, and seeing the value in intention.
  • Level 5: I know your strengths and weaknesses. My help will come in such a way and at such a time that your weakness will never show. The help is there before you know you need it. I’ve got your back. This includes allowing yourself to be inspired to action by those around you in all that they do.
  • Level 6: I know our strengths and weaknesses as a team. I develop my skills and those of my team and find resources to eradicate those weaknesses and contribute to seamless team production. I’ve got your back.
  • Level 7: No matter what’s going on with me, I’m going to bring my A game. You can depend on me to bring my best, even when I’m tired or overwhelmed or scared. I’ve got your back.
  • Level 8: No matter what’s going on with me, I’m dedicated to your success. I will do what I can to bring out your best. I’ve got your back.

Collaboration and you.

What level are you playing at? What level is your team playing at? What level would you like to play at?  No doubt you want your company to prosper. What level of “Got your back” do you and your team need to play at in order to reach your goals?

Levels 7 and 8 require a whole culture of got-your-back. I can only bring my best, and truly be committed to bringing out your best, if I’m confident you’ve got my back. Someone’s got to look out for my best interests. If I know the team is looking out for my best interests, then I don’t have to.

What are you doing to move your team along the continuum? Leadership coach, Cy Wakeman, suggests a single question for the arsenal of every leader. When the shit hits the fan… When an employee complains about a peer… When a deadline is missed… “What did you do to help?”

Adeptability training is another way to move everyone up through the levels of got-your-back habit. This is simple, but not easy. Each of us plays at different levels at different times and in different circumstances. Each of us has moments where we fall off the Got Your Back track altogether. With practice, repetition, awareness, and intention, you can enhance your relationships — and (as Lon said at lunch today) “who you are,” in relationships — in business and beyond.

 

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Communication and collaboration are some of the hardest things to get right in any company culture, and the difficulty increases exponentially as you add more people to the team. Adeptability Training gets teams communicating and collaborating effectively as a matter of habit and mindset. Book a call today.


Make "Work Haters" an Endangered Species

Altogether too many people hate their jobs. Company cultures have a lot to overcome. My facebook feed is littered with people griping about their bosses, complaining about customers, and using “TGIF” like a clarion call to freedom. But the freedom is short lived. Do a quick google image search for “Monday.”

  • “I hate Mondays.”
  • “If Monday had a face, I’d punch it.”
  • “Look on the bright side… At least Mondays only happen once a week.”
  • “My week: Monday, Monday 2, Monday 3, Monday 4, Friday, Saturday, Pre-Monday.”

Apparently, Monday has a lot of detractors. If you haven’t thought about this before, think about it now. TGIF Monday haters are not giving their employers their best. With those beliefs about workdays, how could they?

But it’s not their fault. I blame culture. I blame schools. I blame, “Yabadabadoo!”

However we got here, we must take back the world of work. Work can be good. For more and more of us, work is good. And we’re learning about how business thrives when workers view work as good. And an increasing number of companies are taking the need for work that’s good for workers seriously. Tech companies are early adopters of great company culture as a value. Infusionsoft, for instance, has gone so far as to hire a “Dream Manager,” whose job is to see to it that employees are attaining their dreams. Go, Dan Ralphs!

Some tech companies exist to serve the employees of other companies. Limeade, for example, sells whole-person wellness tech to companies nationwide to help them keep culture buoyant and employees happy and healthy. I recently recorded an interview with Dr. Laura Hamill, the Chief People Officer at Limeade. It was a great conversation about what makes for a great place to work, about how to get the most from your greatest resource — your people — and about company culture. (You’re going to want to listen to that podcast episode when we release it.)

Dr. Hamill says, “Culture is an employment benefit.” Culture is an increasingly important component of recruitment, engagement, and retention efforts in the best companies in the world. Workers are coming to demand great culture. And as Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

The Yes Works is also in the business of engineering and supporting great company culture. Our clients know people matter. Habits of interaction matter. Relationships matter.

Culture lives in relationship habit.

What are great business relationship habits? To us at The Yes Works, a great business relationship is marked by health and synergy: the ability for those within the relationship to produce more, better work within the relationship than they would have been able to produce without it, and the ability and the likelihood to continue doing so into the future. Applying principles of theater improv can strengthen and enliven business relationships — within a company, with clients, with vendors, and with your network at large.

Improv is rich relationship soil with many components. Just ask Twitter CEO, Dick Costolo. He recommends that you, “Manage your company like an improv group.“The following four principles constitute a powerful first glance into improv for business. Take a deep breath before you proceed. This is simple stuff… Each principle is simple. Even taken together as the beginning of a system, it’s simple. But simple don’t make it easy. As you engage with these ideas, consider what you recognize — for better and for worse — in yourself and your work relationships. This is personal. Let it be.

 

Yay for Failing: It’s temporary, inevitable, and full of useful information.

Nobody likes to go down in a flaming blaze of nope. Essentially, there are two ways that people respond to a TRY and MISS: Some people tuck their tails between their legs and have trouble afterward looking themselves in the eye. Others shrug, dust off, and try again. Thomas Edison, for instance, is reputed to have said, “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.” Imagine having a boss who thought that way about your work.

“Yay for Failing” is a perspective, not a celebration of accomplishing nothing. With a “Yay for failing” mentality, you can fall down hard and get back to work without a long mourning period and without shame. Shame is a serious enemy of productivity, contribution, and collaboration. Without fear of failure, people work with great intensity and a keen eye to purpose.

With a “Yay for failing” culture, created and lived by a “Yay for failing” leadership, nothing gets swept under the rug. Missed deadlines are not hidden, so timely adjustments can be made. Failures are acknowledged and reviewed for their lessons. Team members work transparently so others can learn from them, and so they can be effectively coached themselves.

It’s not often any individual failure that costs business time, money, and opportunity on a large scale. It’s failure to recognize failure early, and to respond to it healthfully, and to embrace each failure as a step on the path. And failure punished or ridiculed costs even more in abysmal morale, and diminished risk taking, and declining eagerness to contribute.

 

Got Your Back: We’re stronger, more resilient, and more capable together.

Working on a team or working alone, not one of us can do it on our own. We need support, insight, help, and encouragement from others no matter what our work is.

“Got Your Back” is a principle that gets deeper and more profound the more you use it. On the face of it, “Got Your Back” means I’ll help you out when you need it. Call on me, and I’ll be there. As a principle of improv, it means that I’m committed to making you, my team member, look good. It means I’ll back your play when the chips are down. It means I’ll anticipate your needs, by knowing you well. It means I’m always a servant to our shared purpose.

It means I’m looking for the gold in your contributions. If you’ve put forward an idea that could never work, would never work, you’ve put that idea forward with good intentions, and with wisdom. I’m on the lookout for the value within your intentions. We call that, “making sense of the non-sense.” As a result of my treasure hunting your idea, you feel good. You know you’re valued. You experience that your contributions matter. And the team’s purpose is advanced even by unworkable ideas. No intellectual capital goes to waste.

Too often, co-workers throw one another under the bus — in order to shift blame away from themselves, in order to look better by comparison, in order to play for self-advancement.

“Got Your Back” is an incomparable tool for an effective company culture of collaboration.

 

Everything Is an Offer: Our minds are designed to make associations that creatively address the problems we face without our even trying — if we give ourselves the freedom.  We are all natively creative problem solvers.

In improv, a living creation is built on a single idea — the first offer. We define an offer as anything at all that your mind can take inspiration from, associate with, and respond to. In other words, everything is an offer. Your brain responds to everything that you give attention to. Everything.

A speck of dust can become a marketing idea. If I say, “speck” out loud, that could lead you to think of the bacon-like Swiss cured meat, speck. If you give voice to that association, it may occur to me that we could find a way to take advantage of the popularity and viral nature of the bacon fad to sell our vacuum cleaners. (Let’s just assume for the sake of argument that using bacon to sell vacuums is a good idea.)

Too many of us live our lives believing, “I am not creative.” Non-sense. Each of us has creativity. Each of us makes different associations given the same stimulus. Permit yourself to value that association (and from “Got Your Back” above, also to the stimulus), and you’ll find your brain supplies you with boundless ideas. And each idea you express is stimulus — an offer — for someone else.

This kind of association won’t always lead you and your team in a straight line, but this is the stuff that breeds innovation. Defining your culture as one in which everything is an offer creates a fertile ground for association. Innovation is association plus execution.

 

Yes, And: Notice the power of acceptance — of your ideas, of others’ ideas — and the unstoppable creativity of every human mind.

Clearly, these principles have overlapping implications. The practice of “Yes, And” would have you accept that every offer has merit. Sometimes the merit is buried a bit.

In the workplace,  practicing “Yes, And” means that no ideas are dismissed. In communication, you would deliberately discipline yourself to make sense of the non-sense. To accept that the idea before you has merit, and to contribute your associations to the discussion. This is a concrete method of having your team mate’s back.

Here’s how that might play out. Gary comes to you with an idea for a new product line. “We should keep making vacuum cleaners, but make them single-use vacuum cleaners.” On the face of it, this sounds nuts. Who’s going to buy a single-use vacuum cleaner? If you tell Gary that his idea is stupid or that he sounds crazy, he’s going to stop contributing. He may even take his ideas to your competitor.

How could you employ “Yes, And”? The easiest way might be, “Ok (your yes). I don’t see it yet. Tell me more (your and).” As you advance with the skill of “Yes, And,” your response might be, “I like the way you’re thinking. That falls right in line with the conventional wisdom that to make lots of money you should sell something that people need, and that they’ll need to replace.” Gary will then likely get excited and tell you more about his idea. You may find that from his elaboration, you are able to glean some gold. As your skill becomes still more advanced, you might say, “There’s something to that! While I can’t see making all the vacuum components disposable in a way that’s environmentally sound or cost effective, I know that people do hate getting their hands dirty. With the vacuum industry going more and more bagless, touching the dust becomes a greater and greater problem for our customers. Let’s put our heads together to see if we can improve our user experience in that arena.”

 

So, simple, right? Simple, but challenging! Big-time challenging. But rewarding. Fulfilling, joy producing, and lucrative, to boot! And challenging.

That’s why when we work with teams, we promise, “No ineffective, powerpoint lecturing yak-yak.” Because, it’s one thing to understand this stuff, and it’s another thing altogether to put it into practice. In the exercises and activities we facilitate with the teams we support, participants PRACTICE. And PRACTICE again. We give each participant  many, many reps of practice in each hour we spend together. Because, reps build skills. Skills repeated build habits. Healthy habits make up healthy culture. And healthy culture is self-perpetuating.

Try using these principles yourself. Define these principles as a part of your company’s culture and ask your team to put them into play. If you find you cannot overcome the force of habit (bad habit) that prevents people from this kind of generous behavior (or if you see the potential and want your team to be great at employing it) call on The Yes Works to learn how we can help you create an improv culture in your company.


Surpass Your Goals Without Breaking a Sweat

Great Goals Are Bigger Than You

I’ve been looking back at my 2015, and in a life I’m proud of, this may be my best year yet for setting and reaching goals. I’ve watched and nurtured my baby daughter grow into a gregarious, curious, and precocious toddler. I’ve watched and nurtured our baby company grow, get noticed, and deliver on promised results for 100% of our clients — those that hired us for a 1 hour improv “taste”, and those that hired us for in-depth, multi-day training. I’ve met awesome people and established meaningful connections around the world and in sectors ranging from community service to industrial manufacturing giants to elite military trainers and beyond. I met and exceeded most of my goals and accomplished things I hadn’t even thought to dream of yet — and it was easy (in a way).

And it’s not because I’m great.

It’s because I’m finally starting to realize two truths on a deeper level than I ever have before. My daughter taught me. She’s twenty months old.

  • I can’t do it on my own.  And…
  • Humans like to help.

All the greatest strides I’ve made this year for myself and my company have come through the help of others. People all around me are bending over backwards to help. They always have been, though I haven’t always noticed, and haven’t always believed them. But get this. It’s true. They mean it. Just like I mean it when I offer to help. I take great satisfaction in being of service to others.

For instance… This week, I’ll cook a meal — big enough to provide tons of left-overs — for a friend. He’s launching a business and could use a no-fuss home-cooked meal so he can concentrate on the sprint he’s running. This year, I connected four job seekers with their dream employers because I could, and I wanted to see them succeed. I introduced podcast hosts whose work I enjoy to guests I know they’d value having on their shows. I did it because I like to help. And I’m not at all unusual. You probably get off on helping others too, even with no promise or likelihood of payback. It just feels good.

So, because I can’t do it on my own, I started accepting the help others were offering me more than I ever have before. Some of that help I paid for, as it came in the form of professional services rendered. In exchange for some of the help, however, I simply said, “thank you.”

This second lesson about how profoundly true it is that humans like to help, I learned only by fully embracing the first lesson: I can’t do it on my own. Like so many of us do, I played my goals close to my vest. I didn’t share the small ones. And I didn’t share the big ones. I didn’t share with many people where I was, and where I was hoping to get. So how could people possibly help me achieve my goals? Few people knew, so few even offered.

In 2015, I made a change. I started telling everyone (everyone) about my goals: large and small, personal and professional. I didn’t tell every person every goal. I wasn’t dramatic about it. I told everyone about at least one goal. And I told them in a matter of fact manner without any expectation.

It goes like this, “I’m looking for some dinner.” And like this, “I want my company to bring the communication, collaboration, and decision-making awesome of improv to law enforcement.”

As soon as I started to share my goals with people that way, they started offering to help in ways large and small.  Not everyone, but lots of people.

I also became more generous with myself. I’m offering my help more, and I enjoy it. Helping nourishes me, teaches me, and leaves me fulfilled. Where I once feared that helping others would diminish the time I could devote to my own goals, I’m finding that what goes around comes around in the most unexpected of ways. And with that experience of fulfillment and value in my own heart and mind, when others say they want to help me, I believe them.

How can you surpass your goals without breaking a sweat?

Here’s my challenge to you, and my delivery of the no-sweat promise of this article’s title.

 

THE GOAL-SMASHING, HOPE-SURPASSING CHALLENGE

A. You can’t do it on your own:

  1. Start telling your goals — large and small, personal and professional — to everyone (everyone). This may feel strange and uncomfortable at first, but it’ll get easier. And you’ll find that people are truly grateful to you for opening a meaningful conversation. This has two incredibly powerful benefits. First, once you tell people, you are accountable to those goals. Second, people will offer to help.
  2. When people offer to help, take them up on it. Believe that they actually want to help. The great majority of them do. They are not just being polite. It’s easy enough to be polite without offering to help, so the offer is genuine. It is, in fact, not polite to disbelieve what people tell you about their own desires.
  3. Remind them of their offer to help. Do this politely, gently, infrequently… But do it. Remind them. I know this is challenging. It’s part of believing them when they told you they wanted to help. Offer to help them help you. For example, if someone says, “I should introduce you to Bob.” A week later, if you haven’t heard from them, drop them an email. “Thanks for your kind offer to introduce me to Bob. Here are some times I’m available for coffee with you both.”

 

B. Humans like to help:

  1. Ask other people what their goals are — large and small, personal and professional. Ask people you know. Ask people you don’t know. You don’t need to get a laundry list. One or two goals per person is plenty.
  2. Help in any way you can. If your profession lines up with their goals, offer to help in a professional capacity, and trade your help for their money. If not, find a way to help anyway. Keep an open mind about what would be helpful. (Introductions, referrals, book recommendations, a friendly ear, a quarter.) Your help might be very indirectly related to their goals. (My friend is working his tail off to launch a business. That launch is his goal. But, in passing, he said, “I don’t know how I’m going to eat this week.” I offered to cook.) Maybe your help will be minor, maybe major. Either way, it could tip the scale. You needn’t put yourself out a great deal to make a great difference.
  3. If you can’t see a way to help, ask. Heck, even if you can see a way to help, it could still pay to ask. The question is simple, “How can I help?”

 

C. Start helping the people you know by sharing this challenge today:

  1. Share this article. Use email, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, whatever social media you’ve got. If you see value here, so will others. Or, just share its ideas in conversation. Let’s shatter not just our own goals, but the goals of everyone we come in contact with.
  2. Share your goals (as described above).
  3. Ask about their goals.
  4. Help.

 

Priming the Pump

I’ll start the ball rolling.  Here are a few of my goals (some larger than others) going into the new year:

  • Inspire 100 people to tell me their goals in just the first week of 2016, and help each one of them in some way.
  • Double the number of clients in our subscription-model company-culture upkeep program.
  • Bring the communication, collaboration, and decision making awesome of improv to law enforcement agencies in at least three communities.
  • Create a world in which my daughter is destined to have a workplace she loves, a work product she’s proud of, and a vocation she can look at and say, “That’s worth the life I’ve given it.”

Tell me a few of your goals. Whether I know you or not, I truly will help if I can. This is your chance to start the New Year off powerfully. Don’t let this opportunity go by.

Help me reach my first goal:


One Tool. A Competitive Advantage.

By Aaron Schmookler, Adam Utley, and Rachel Lionheart (in collaboration)

 

Most leaders, when asked, say that their team has the skills it needs to perform better than average. When asked specifically about communication, however, they say it needs to get better.  When asked about teamwork, they say it needs to get better.  When asked about innovation, they say it needs to get better.  When asked about the ability to cope with the unexpected and with change, they say it needs to get better.

This article will arm you with a powerful tool for making work on your team better indeed.

Would you like communication, teamwork, innovation and coping with the unexpected to improve on your team?  Do assumptions gum up the works of effective communication? Does fear prevent people from communicating when they first realize they’re likely to miss a deadline?  Are your people satisfied with the status quo when you know growth is essential for outpacing the competition?

Incremental improvements at work often take too much work for too little return.  But our clients easily make substantial improvements to communication, so they reap unprecedented cohesion on their teams, enjoy lucrative innovation, and take change in stride. You can make strides too, with a single tool from Theater Improvisation.

Why improvisation? Life isn’t scripted. The unexpected happens. Change happens. And Darwin can tell you, if you don’t adapt to change, if you can’t respond relevantly to the unexpected, you won’t survive.  Most companies do ok with the unexpected. Most companies respond ok to change.  But ok is not going to bring your dreams for the future to fruition.

The tool I’ve promised, and one of the principles we teach in our workshops, is BE OBVIOUS. Webster says obvious means, “easy for the mind to understand or recognize, clear, self-evident, or apparent.” Once you and your team try it, you’ll agree… BE OBVIOUS is a superpower.

“Originality is born in the associations individuals make. Innovation is association. Collaboration, in a culture of contribution and obvious communication, accelerates the process.”

We coach our clients to BE OBVIOUS in a few distinct business arenas–the three C’s:

  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Conflict management.

Collaboration is communication. And it works best with a constant flow of ideas to build from — a flow of ideas generated by each all team-members. No idea can be formed in a vacuum. No ideas are born from nothing. Every idea in the history of ideas has been inspired something else. You can’t stop ideas from coming.  Blockages of ideas don’t exist–only blockages of expression, of communication.  Fear stops the communication and proliferation of ideas.  Fear of failure.  Fear of ridicule.  Fear that one’s idea is not original enough…

Keith Johnstone, improviser extraordinaire, says, “The more obvious you are, the more original you appear.”  So many simple but profound business opportunities are lost in striving to come up with “clever or disruptive ideas.”  One idea leads to another. Give attention and voice to your idea, no matter how simple, and it will lead to another idea, either in your own mind, or in the mind of a collaborator. Speak the obvious associations your mind is making, and they will lead to others. If your collaborators do the same, you follow one idea after another, down the rabbit-hole, and into Wonderland.

Consider the Post-it note.  On the face of it, this was a failed attempt at 3M to create a strong adhesive. But upon encountering this “failed” adhesive, someone spoke what was obvious to them, and this lucrative use for a weak adhesive is now found in nearly every home and office in the country–indeed around the world.

Take one of the most successful toys in history — the slinky.  It too was a failure, intended to stabilize ships’ instruments.  The inventor, dejected, put it on a shelf. His wife later knocked it off, and saw it’s remarkable stepping ability. And a toy was born.

Take the case of a truck which got stuck under too low an overpass.  Engineers, police, and towing professionals scratched their heads, trying to devise a strategy for removing the truck that would not destroy the bridge, or further damage the truck. Evidently, it took the obvious observation of a ten year old boy who said, obviously, “Why don’t you let the air out of the tires?

Originality is born in the associations individuals make. Innovation is association. Collaboration, in a culture of contribution and obvious communication, accelerates the process.

Conflict is communication.  Conflict on a team often results from one team member judging the ideas and contributions of another.

“Let’s open an office in Siberia.”

“What…..That’s just stupid.”

The Siberia office idea generator is likely to feel defensive and either shut down or fight.  Witnesses to the interaction are likely to perceive an unfriendly environment for their own ideas and clam up themselves. And it needn’t be so blatant as this to degrade the ‘culture of contribution.’  Something as seemingly bland as, “Really?  Siberia?” is enough to shame people into silence, or gird them for battle.

BE OBVIOUS has the power to completely transform the interaction from one that degrades relationships and productivity to one that builds them.

“Let’s open an office in Siberia.”

The knee-jerk judgment that that is stupid results from an earlier thought.  Maybe, “Siberia’s really cold.  Siberia’s really far away.”  So, instead of, “That’s just stupid,” the OBVIOUS response to “Let’s open an office in Siberia,” is, “Siberia’s really cold and really far away.”

Now, there’s information in the room that can help everyone, the original speaker included, to assess the idea’s merits in their own minds.  The relationship has not been degraded.  The fight or flight response has not been triggered. The environment still welcomes new ideas. The idea generator may respond, “I thought of Siberia because real estate there is very cheap.”

Then someone else may respond, “Well, the real estate in North Dakota is pretty cheap too.  And it’s not as cold, and it’s not as far away.”

And then building on that, someone else might add what’s obvious to them. “My family is in North Dakota, and I’ve been wanting to move there.”

And in one fell swoop, you’ve got a location for the satellite office and the person to spearhead its opening.  A bad idea is refined to a good one, and other ancillary problems are organically solved along the way.  And relationships are strengthened in a process that breeds group pride in its accomplishments.

Many of you may know the story of Kitty Genovese: She was stabbed to death in 1964 outside her apartment in New York City while bystanders stood by–didn’t even call the police.  This failure to respond has been widely cited as evidence of the heartlessness of New York’s citizens and the general degradation of society.  Social science has since shown us another explanation.  Bystanders likely did not call for help, not because they didn’t care, but because each person presumed someone else would surely call.  Someone else surely had already called, was on the phone even now.  With this diffusion of responsibility, each individual can shrug off personal responsibility.

Who among us has not had a work-project fall to the same fate as Kitty Genovese.  Some detail critical to the success of the project has been overlooked.  Bob knows he’s never heard anyone discussing the obvious problem that the building design the whole team has been working on has no front door.  No one will be able to enter the building.  But doors aren’t his department.  Cathy’s seen the door problem too.  But she’s windows.  Bob and Cathy both assume, “Surely someone is on it. Someone knows, and even though I haven’t heard about it, obviously, someone is fixing this.  Then the design goes to the client.  If the firm is lucky, the client notices and says, “There’s no door.” And the firm suffers embarrassment and delay. If the firm isn’t lucky, the building is erected from the drawings… without a door. And the firm suffers humiliation and is never hired again. All because each person in the chain presumed that it was so obvious that there must be a hidden solution.  Often, the obvious goes unspoken because people are afraid of the ridicule that may come from saying what’s clearly obvious to everyone, “Thanks, Captain Obvious.”  Or they’re afraid of being embarrassed by demonstrating their own incompetence or ignorance of the obvious by saying something that shows they’ve missed what’s as plain as the nose on their face.  “Duh!  The door’s. Right. Here.”  This is an extreme example, but we’ve all wasted work because no one spoke what was obvious to them.

How do you get people to speak what’s obvious?  Get full commitment from everyone to BE OBVIOUS, and to WELCOME the obvious from others.  Will there be redundant communication?  Sure.  But in places that matter, we all install redundant systems.  We drive carefully AND wear seatbelts.  We lock the car AND set the alarm.  We save our files on the local server AND to the cloud.

With a BE OBVIOUS culture, Kitty would still be alive.  And with a BE OBVIOUS culture in your company, projects are delivered on time and under budget.  BE OBVIOUS gets your back.

When everyone has committed to BE OBVIOUS, each person has the responsibility to respond to every obvious need. Not to personally address it, but to at least mention it to the relevant person.  Every manager, every team leader, every executive I’ve asked would rather hear too many times about a growing crisis in the company than not to hear about it at all.

BE OBVIOUS starts with a willingness to say what is plainly and immediately on your mind, beyond the trap of judgement, and build off of the information that surrounds you, in the environment, from your coworkers, from clients.  It takes open-mindedness, commitment to transparency and practice to create a functioning habit in your burgeoning culture of contribution.


The Audacity to Thrive.

Problem is, most business training is ineffective, boring, powerpoint lecturing yak-yak that accomplishes nothing.  It espouses systems or techniques designed to help ensure success.  And the systems work.  There’s nothing wrong with the systems they teach.  But there’s nothing wrong with the systems that are already in place either.  Informational training about systems and best practices is painting a house on fire if the mindset and habits aren’t addressed.  It does nothing to close the gap between what we know we should do and what we actually do, because the knowing-doing gap isn’t an information problem.  It’s a person problem.  

There are serious problems that many people in business simply ignore.  It’s not that they don’t notice or don’t care about the problems.  Rather, they think these problems can’t be solved.

  • Teams that add up to less than the sum of their parts
  • Poor communication
  • Tactlessness
  • Conflict
  • Resistance to change
  • Incremental and slow growth
  • Inattention
  • Sloppiness
  • Good enough to get by
  • Lack of accountability
  • Disengagement
  • Sales people who don’t perform

These problems stifle profits and are rooted in fear:

  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of loss
  • Fear of ridicule
  • Fear of rejection
  • Fear of embarrassment

And there’s nothing we can do about that, right? You’ve either got audacity or you don’t.  You’ve either got leadership or you don’t.  You’ve either got creativity or you don’t.  You’ve either got self-awareness, accountability, and responsibility, or you don’t. Conventional thinking is, these problems cannot be solved. That’s just the way it is with people. Soft skills can’t be trained.

Well, what if I told you that these skills are trainable.  What If I told you that you can change the dynamics on your team?  What if I told you that you can elevate the plane on which your people work together? What if I told you that your team has genius in it just waiting for permission to act?  Imagine the transformations in performance, innovation, and productivity with fear out of the way.  The results would astound you.

Improv can change your mind.  Without losing your team’s identity, without asking your people to lose theirs, you can create habits of audacity.

The Yes Works helps businesses solve problems they think are unsolvable.  We bring the tools and techniques of Adeptability to bear on overlooked business problems, getting business results you can take to the bank. Using tools and techniques drawn from improvisation, modern neuroscience and learning theory, and current leadership data, we train people to recognize fear and set it aside. We’re boosting people power in organizations large and small.

Improv fosters habits that bring forward the best of each of us in every situation.  How? Neuroscience says practice makes permanent because it builds lasting structures in the brain.  Improv is practice.

Practice constructive, innovative association.  Practice confidence and collaboration.  Practice trust.

Improv is the competitive advantage you’ve been looking for.  It’s a person solution.  Improv skills, imparted through skillful facilitation, installs in companies the audacity to thrive.


If Even Death is an Offer

Everything is an offer.

That’s a principle that we at The Yes Works teach.  An “offer,” in an improv context, is some bit of information provided to you for your creative use.  We can take creative inspiration from absolutely anything in our environment—from something someone says, from the tone with which they say it, or from a gesture someone makes, or the smallest subconscious movement, or a speck on the wall, or… even a disastrous event in the life of your company.

If everything is an offer—with the potential to spark a creative response—then the potential for innovation is everywhere.  A failed adhesive becomes a Post-it Note.  A failed ship’s instrument stabilization device becomes one of the most successful toys of all time (the Slinky). Last year, a drought at Stonehenge, in combination with a hose that wouldn’t reach, caused the grass, long kept green, to turn brown. While the groundskeeper may have been distraught, archaeologists answered one of the mysteries of Stonehenge. The first grass to turn brown formed spots that completed the circle of stones, indicating where fallen stones had once stood.  Was Stonehenge once a complete circle?  Yes, as revealed by the brown spots caused by this happy accident, it was.

In our lives and in our businesses, we can become paralyzed by failure or by crisis, or worse yet, we can struggle to oppose the inevitable, putting our finger in the dike when there’s not one leak, but twenty. When faced with insurmountable forces, we often ignore them.  Or we stand up to them like Oedipus defying the Oracle. Or we run away in hopes that we are faster than fate.

A dear friend of my family, Waylon Black, a vibrant, creative, caring doctor, beloved by family and coworkers (by everyone, really) learned not so long ago that he had cancer.  He fought it with fortitude and grace, and when he learned that it would surely take his life, Waylon took his impending death as an offer and an inspiration.  “I decided I was really going to live,” he told his voice teacher, my wife Jessica.

He surely had some private grief.  No doubt Waylon mourned with his family.  But he was not defeated by this turn of fate, not diminished by facing the inevitable. If advancing death was a crisis in his life, it was not a crisis first or foremost.  It was an opportunity to celebrate.  And he did celebrate.

He took voice lessons, singing in his church choir and singing American Standards he’d expanded with countermelodies he wrote.  He danced.  He threw holiday parties.  He enjoyed his grandchildren.  “Really live,” he did.

He celebrated not only in the small moments and the holidays of his remaining time, but even in his coming demise. And it was a source of inspiration to him.

Viewing crisis as a gift—as an offer, as a source of inspiration—is a skill, and one that is cultivated and enhanced by a regular practice of improv. That’s a different approach to crisis management.

A creative and inspired fellow in every avenue of his life, Waylon set about creating the mausoleum that would be his final resting place (and when she’s ready, that of his wife, Marlene).  This was no macabre endeavor for Waylon.  He did not darkly face the task, reluctantly choosing from a catalogue.  Instead, he excitedly designed the look of the giant stone monolith he would rest in, making drawings, choosing materials, drafting and editing.  The granite walls and pillars will one day hold not only Waylon and Marlene, but also a bronze statue of the two of them doing one of the things they most loved to do together, dance.  He showed friends and family his designs and plans, smiling and joking and proud of his work.  He strode into his voice lesson one day and said to my wife, grinning, “look at this picture of my mausoleum!”

And, surely, inevitably, he came to inhabit the mausoleum he’d worked so hard to create.  I don’t know if it brings him joy now, as he rests there, but I do know that it brought him joy when he was making it, in his final days.  He planned for the mausoleum to be a gift.  “I hope that others who visit the cemetery will enjoy it too.”  To insure that they would, he even added a bench a few yards away.

I’m reminded of my friend, Steve Roberts.  He says that everything is a gift.  “Everything.”  And he claims that his poster of Noah joyfully waterskiing behind the Ark (drawn by Jeff Moores) is more valuable than the Mona Lisa. This illustration, Steve says, “Encourages us to ask ourselves, ‘What will it take for me to thrive in the face of adversity?’”

Viewing crisis as a gift—as an offer, as a source of inspiration—is a skill, and one that is cultivated and enhanced by a regular practice of improv. Deliberate exercise of improv, of- its mindset and principles, creates neural pathways that make a healthy response to crisis easier.  That’s one way that Waylon’s intention that his mausoleum be a gift to others is a success—its very existence reminds me to enjoy my many blessings, and that everything is an offer of inspiration for me to respond to with creativity and joy.  That’s why we, at The Yes Works, offer support in crisis surfing, rather than crisis management.  A crisis is not simply something to manage or to mitigate.  It’s something to enjoy and take gifts from.

If even death is an offer, an opportunity for creativity and innovation, then imagine the possibilities for your business in the next crisis you’ll face.  May you face a whopper soon, and may you face it as Waylon faced cancer—with grace, aplomb, creativity, collaboration, and joy.