Improvised Entrepreneurship

As a business leader, you often have to make snap decisions while walking and chewing bubble gum. It’s not always easy, but it’s part of the job. Also, it’s a skill you can improve.

How? Take an improv class!

Yea, I know. You’re thinking, “I don’t want to be a comedian. Why should I take improv?”

Because improv isn’t just about comedy. It’s about being in the moment, trusting your gut, accepting mistakes, and moving forward. Sounds a lot like what you do, right?

Here are 10 principles of improv and how they map to entrepreneurship:

Principle 1: Be prepared & warm up
Before doing improv, participants train their minds to sharpen their awareness, enhance their listening skills, and be ready for anything. In business, it’s impossible to know exactly what will happen next. So the best thing you can do is to sharpen your awareness, enhance your listening skills, and be ready for, well, anything.
Principle 2: Willingness
Improv participants have to be willing to mess up big time, look foolish, and move on. Whether you like it or not, you will mess up big time and look foolish too. Perhaps more often than not. You may have maxed out all your credit cards and spent months locked in your room, only to emerge with a load of debt and obscene body odor. The key is to be willing to accept this and move on. And to take a shower.
Principle 3: Stay in the moment
Improv is all about what is happening now, because that’s where life is happening. As an entrepreneur, you should still plan for the future, but be mindful of the present as well. Keep an eye on today’s finances, metrics, market, and customers, and trends. It is important to balance the future and the present, long-term strategy with short-term tactics.
Principle 4: Shut up and listen
Good improv participants are good listeners. They don’t think about what they’re going to say next. They listen to what has been said, then build off of it. The next time you talk to your customers, make sure you listen. Put your problem solving urges aside so you can process what they are saying.
Principle 5: Action beats inaction
“Don’t talk about doing it, do it.” Be a shark. Keep on moving. If you suddenly find yourself going the wrong way, turn. Move quickly and course correct quickly. If you’re debating between doing more data analysis and taking action, I can help end that debate: take action.
Principle 6: Be honest
Doing improv means learning not to censor or judge your own thoughts. Improv participants express themselves sincerely and genuinely. And authentically. Leaders who act this way tend to inspire others to follow them as well.
Principle 7: Let go of (your need to) control
Perhaps you’ve heard of the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the courage to change that which I can, the serenity to accept that which I cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference.” It’s a powerful principle, one that I use in business and in life. The serenity to accept that which you cannot control is the key here. If you cannot control sometime, like the economy, there is no benefit in worrying about it.
Principle 8: There are no mistakes
Beyond being willing to make mistakes is the belief that there are no mistakes – only actions that lead to positive results, or lessons to be learned (which in itself is a positive result). When you are creating a new company, every step you take will be teaching you a valuable lesson.
Principle 9: Trust
Improv is a team-based activity where trust for others is a requirement. Same goes for a business too. Trust yourself, your instinct, your impulses, and your choices. Trust your team, for they are helping you achieve the vision of your business.
Principle 10: Teamwork (row, row, row)
Speaking of teams, improv participants don’t just trust their teammates, they rely on them. This interdependence is what makes improv work. And yes, a business is no different. If you don’t depend on others, you’ll never be able to grow your business. Take the time to build a solid, dependable team, then trust them to help move the business forward.
Bonus Principle: “Yes, and…”
Ah yes, a bonus principle. This is a pervasive idea that weaves through all of the others. It “implies acceptance, but not acquiescence.” It is the opposite of “No, but…” To be a successful business leader, you will need a similar attitude. They are not problems in your way, but challenges to overcome. They are not mistakes that hurt, but lessons to learn.

Want to know more about improv? Keith Johnstone’s book Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre is a classic. Start there.

If you would prefer hands-on training, sign up for a local improv class. It is not about being funny. It is about being comfortable enough with yourself to think on the spot. And that is a skill any entrepreneur needs.

Props to: Harry Max

Author: Mike Lee

An idealistic realist, humanistic technologist & constant student.