Effective Negotiating in Corporate America

What do you feel when you hear the word, negotiate? Dread, Anxiety, Excitement? Do you believe that negotiation skills can be taught? Do you agree with this statement – “we negotiate all the time”? Have you ever searched Google asking one or more of these questions: 

  • What skill is the most helpful during a negotiation? 
  • How does ego play a role in negotiating? 
  • What role does leverage play during negotiations?  

I will address all of these questions, and how the world of IMPROV can help make you a much better negotiator, and more, in this episode.  Yes!  And this same topic will be continued in at least two, if not three, more upcoming podcast episodes.  Stay tuned!

Let’s get started! Most of us have experienced a negotiation gone bad.  However, have you ever been negotiated up? That’s right negotiated up.  Early in my business, I wanted to work with a specific association because of the painful negotiation their members were experiencing. I knew I had a solution for that pain.  In my conversation with them, they asked what my fee was? I replied, what is your budget for this event?  The person responded with the speaker budget for the entire year and it was $1,000 above my fee for the event.  I wanted the job, so I offered a fee that was 75% less than my normal fee.  Then came the awkward pause.  After about what seemed like 30 min but more like 30 sec, the person replied with a fee that was 50% more than I offered.  I got negotiated UP! I learned a valuable lesson that day.  Learn how to negotiate better!  So from that point forward, I offer my full fee, and if rejected, I work with the other person to find common ground where both parties WIN and walk away with value.  

Not every negotiation table has a client on the other end. Sometimes it’s an employee. And when it is, it is often about negotiating to give them a voice their role within the company and in the business’s direction.  These negotiations take success to a whole level. 

So. What makes some negotiations successful and others dead in the water? Conducting a successful negotiation requires the use of six essential skills – and they are ALL foundations of Improvisation.

These six skills will ensure every negotiation has the potential to end with a positive solution.

6 PRINCIPLES OF IMPROVISATION

  1. Take your ego off the table
  2. Have and show respect for the other party
  3. Be in the moment (focus)
  4. Listen to the other party’s needs and wants
  5. Adapt to the situation
  6. Yes, And…

These steps truly help everyone one win in a negotiation. One of biggest impacts the 6 principles have is to  take the emotions off the table. Heated emotions can cause negotiations to shut down. They are more likely to end in a stalemate with wasted efforts. Anthony K. Tjan wrote in a Harvard Business Review blog, “Time and emotion — these are the two things most often wasted during a negotiation.” And he is right. We tend to react emotionally and negatively to any points of negotiation that oppose our own agenda. And that wastes time and energy. When our goals for a negotiation are so firmly anchored that we cannot budge, it becomes hard to see any common goal as a solution. Instead, emotions kick in, and egos inflate—and we cease to listen. All we hear is our own voice in our head trying to find a way back to what we want.

SKILLFUL NEGOTIATION IS ROOTED IN IMPROVISATION

Tom Yorton was once in the corporate ranks before becoming CEO of Second City Communications, the business solutions division of the world- renowned comedy company, The Second City. He had this to say in a recent Business Innovation Factory article, “But my experience – and in fact, my scars – are from bumping up against the same organizational hurdles that improv is so effective at helping companies get over – challenges that include connecting with customers, engaging employees around change, moving into new

markets, innovating new products and services, working without a script.”

All of the aspects of driving positive change inside the company depend on how well leaders in corporate America can negotiate. That equates to how well business professionals can handle ‘blocking’. ‘Blocking’ are those things that are brought to the table that are unexpected – out of the blue – out of nowhere Blocking like this It halts forward momentum and does not neatly fit inside the box of your agenda.  And it happens every day.

Daena Giardella teaches an improvisational leadership class at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. She spends an entire lesson on teaching how to avoid using the most common block, the “yes, but.” In an NPR article, she points out, “Even though you say, ‘Yes,’ the but says, Yeah, but that’s not really valid because here is the better point.“

Negotiations can quickly come to a grinding halt when “yes, but” comes to the table. It is when emotions get heated and time gets wasted.  Michael Wheeler, Harvard Business School Professor and Program on Negotiation (PON) faculty member wrote the book The Art of Negotiation: How to Improvise Agreement in a Chaotic World. Michael states in a PON Q&A interview that, “real-world interactions between parties by looking at the uncertainty of negotiations and how to develop flexible strategy when you have incomplete information. Negotiation cannot be scripted. Your goals may change during the course of negotiation, a little or a lot. Unexpected opportunities and obstacles may pop up. Your across-the-table counterpart may be more or less cooperative than you expected.” 

Too many times we practice a rigid strategy – a script – a plan – prior to going into a negotiation.  By doing so, we quit listening to the other party because we are following the linear thought process we created and practiced.  We miss out on key opportunities or threats by not being fully present. Michael states in this Q&A, “There’s a misperception that military strategy is very rigid. Yes, there’s a chain of command, but there’s also a military saying: “Plans go out the window with first contact with the enemy.” In an uncertain situation, you have to think through your best- and worst-case scenarios.” This military strategy can be witnessed back in 2011 when the U.S. Navy SEALs executed the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan.  “The mission had been meticulously planned; the SEALs trained for it over months and several contingency plans were developed and put into place. When one of the navy’s Black hawk helicopters crashed within the compound, a very specific kind of improvisation was required if the mission was to succeed.” This is adapting to the change in the strategy in order to achieve a positive outcome. 

Improvising is not winging it or making things up.  Improvising is all about over-preparing and developing alternative plans and when you enter the room, you throw the script away, you listen and stay present in the negotiation and adapt in order to achieve success.   

Time to remember the 6 principles of improvisation!

  1. Take your ego off the table
  2. Have and show respect for the other party
  3. Be in the moment (focus)
  4. Listen to the other party’s needs and wants
  5. Adapt to the situation
  6. Yes, And…

Listen to the other party’s needs. What are they really saying when they block your proposal? Be adaptable by taking your ego off the table. Take a deep breath if you need to and then let the next words that come out of your mouth be “Yes, and…”

A successful negotiation is birthed from being able to rebound, to take the blocks and build with them. That is how you connect with other people.

Have you ever watched preschoolers play with blocks? They take turns stacking them on top of each other until it gets so high it just topples over – or they like to watch it fall and knock it over on purpose. But the point is that both of them have an agenda. They each want to pick up a block and put it on the tower and each one probably has an idea about what the tower will look like, but they keep building until they can’t build anymore.

We are more likely to succeed in negotiations when both parties can envision a common goal. Improvisation teaches us to set aside our personal agendas and ego and take whatever the other person gives you and go with it. The glue that ties it all together is the principle of “Yes, and…” Successful people all intuitively do this. They just don’t necessarily realize that they are using improvisation in their daily lives.

To succeed in negotiations, we need to drop our agendas long enough to truly listen—and with respect for all

involved. It is true for formal negotiations around a conference table and is the way to success in the daily negotiations of life and career—during a chat with the boss or with one’s spouse, or with a child. This is the kind of straight talk we can cultivate that truly will make the biggest difference.

If you would like to learn more about negotiating using improv techniques, please contact me at peter@petermargaritis.com

Dealing with The Peanut Gallery That Is Your Inner Critic

Let’s start off this article with a conversation about that voice in your head. You know the one.  The voice that keeps coming back with the warning, “don’t say that idea out loud because people will think you are stupid or crazy.” Or, another favorite, “you have to be kidding me, you know you can’t speak in front of an audience – you will look like a fool.”  You know that voice… and it has a lot more to say on any number things – and none of it is good.  This is the voice of your inner critic.  

So what exactly is an inner critic?  According to the Good Therapy Blog, the inner critic is “an inner voice that judges, criticizes, or demeans a person whether or not the self-criticism is objectively justified”. A highly active inner critic can be paralyzing – it can take a toll on one’s emotional well-being, self-esteem – and in some cases, it can cause individuals to seek help from a therapist or counselor to help balance thought patterns and change their mindset.

Jerry Seinfeld has done a standup routine where he joked that people’s number one fear is public speaking. Their number two fear is death. So, they would rather be in a casket than giving the eulogy.

And it’s true. Chapman University conducted a recent survey that uncovered America’s top fears. Among those were: corrupt government officials, pollution of oceans, rivers, and lakes, and cyber-terrorism. However, at the top of personal anxieties is the fear of public speaking, well above the fear of death, as Seinfeld joked.

THE RELIABLE INNER CRITIC

That inner critic of yours never goes on vacation – it’s there continually giving opinions on anything and everything you do. In speaking, the closer you get to the time you have to present, the louder and more incessant the critic becomes. For many people, they can get sick from the stress that the critic brings their way.  Whether you are in front of an audience or sharing thoughts during a meeting, all you can see or think about are all those eyeballs leveled at you. While at the same time, your inner critic is constantly telling you how you are going to fail. So what can you do? How do you overcome this fear and silence the inner critic?

Improvisation!!!  Yes! And by employing the principles of improvisation, you will overcome the fear, and silence the critic every time! 

Improv will help you change the conversation in your head and start programming your brain to use “yes, and…” instead of “yes, but…”. Why does this matter? Think about the difference between “but” vs. “and”. Using “but” introduces a contrasting thought and stops the other in its tracks. Using “And” instead, connects one idea with the other – allowing both to be considered jointly. So, for instance, you could be saying to yourself, “yes, you have been asked to give this presentation, but you’ll do awful.” Or, you could turn it into the following, “yes, you have been asked to give this presentation, and you can do it.” Just a slight change in words and tone from “but” to “and” has an immediate and positive impact on your confidence, self-esteem and self- worth.

For example, consider the classic children’s story, “The Little Engine That Could”.  It teaches this very principle. Each of the different locomotives in the story could be considered inner critics – each pointing out why the little engine couldn’t accomplish the task at hand. Eventually, the little engine, which had been told she wasn’t fast enough, big enough, or powerful enough, was the best locomotive for an important job. Despite the doubts and criticism, the train, as we all know, repeatedly chanted to herself, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” And she did.

“You’re not fast enough,” “You’re not smart enough,” “You’re not interesting enough.”  “You’re NOT ENOUGH”!  The inner critic needs to be reprimanded and corrected for this. And guess what? You have the power to do it. Tell yourself, “I can do this,” and the more times you repeat it, the more you will believe it. This positive programming of the brain is real and can be used to overcome your immediate fears. The more you say it, the more you will silence that droning voice of doom that cycles through all your fears: “You can’t do this, you don’t know what you’re talking about, you’re a fraud, you’re going to fail, something will go wrong…” STOP!

THE PERFECT INNER CRITIC

This last part of the inner critic’s diatribe, “something will go wrong…” is very likely to come true, however.  Why? Because we expect ourselves to be perfect.  But there is no such thing as perfection.  Of course you will make a mistake, probably more than one.  Remember however, that most of the time, unless it’s a real blooper, the only person who knows about it is you. Your listeners and audiences won’t see it or hear it – only you and your inner critic.

When you’re overly focused on perfection, you can go into a downhill spiral if you make even a minor mistake, such as forgetting to make one of your less important points. If you maintain your confidence, something like that won’t trip you up. It would be best if you accepted the fact that you will make some slips. Think of them as opportunities to learn to do even better and roll with them… this is what keeps us interesting and interested.

Also, keep in mind, a certain amount of vulnerability goes a long way in winning over your audience. An excellent example of this is a TED talk given by Megan Washington, a premier Australian singer/songwriter. When she opens her speech, you are immediately aware that she has a speech impediment or stutter. She says that, while she has no qualms about singing in front of people, she has a mortal dread of public speaking. Throughout the presentation, the audience watches her struggle from time to time to get certain words out, but it doesn’t matter. Her vulnerability warmed the audience to her, keeping them engaged up until the moment she disclosed a deeply personal fact: you can’t stutter when you sing. At this point, she plays and sings a beautiful song superbly, ending with a roaring applause from the audience.

While we may not have the opportunity to leverage a vulnerability like this, it’s important to remember:  the inner critic will tell you far more than you need to know, and it is not true. You will hear what you cannot do or how you will screw up. And here is what you can tell that naysayer: “Yes, I know I will make mistakes, And they will not hamper me. Yes, I will not be perfect, And that means I can only get better.” Even today, whenever I get up in front of an audience, I get butterflies, AND I can control them now and make them flutter in the direction of my choice.

REASONING WITH INNER CRITIC

With all this bad-mouthing of the inner critic – it does serve a purpose. If I were to consider delivering a speech on nuclear physics, I would hope that my inner critic would start screaming at me long before I stood at the podium. However, the critic doesn’t know when to shut up; that’s where you need to train it. You might know enough about a topic to deliver a decent speech, but the critic keeps nagging: “Your nose hair is showing. Your tie is crooked. What a nitwit.” If you pay too much attention, the prophecies of failure could come true. You get hung up on your shortcomings rather than focusing on your strengths.

Sometimes the key is just to confront it: “Shut up! Shut up!” You can accomplish this through the “yes, and…” approach of improv. “Yes, I hear what you’re saying, And I’m going to do it anyway.” The critic may still try to undermine you but not as loudly. You’ll build up self-esteem. You’ll feel confident. Now go and do it!

If you would like to know more and /or discuss on ways to silence your inner critic and become more confident in your presentations and meetings, please email me at peter@petermargaritis.com.

Four Questions Every Effective Leader Needs to Answer

As 2020 is coming to a close (good riddance), I have decided it is time to start writing my next book. Instead of blogging, or writing it in a quiet place, I have decided to write it through my podcast. A new and untraditional approach to writing a book.  You, my audience, will get a sneak preview of the content and can send me comments, suggestions, and ideas for the book.  Kind of a crowdsourcing approach.  There are two working titles to the book: Improv for the C-Suite and Leadership in Hyperdrive Powered by Improv.  My first call out to you is which of the two do you like?  Send me an email at peter@petermargaritis.com on the title you like the best. 

Over the past two years, I have been doing much research on the topic of improvisational leadership. I have curated 43 articles, 23 books, and 23 YouTube videos based on improv or improv leadership characteristic references. In the book “Getting to YES AND” by Bob Kulman, he discusses that effective leaders can answer four questions about themselves – Why this? Why now? What do I have to do? What’s in it for me? Bob discusses these four questions as if he was to bring the tenets of improvisation into his firm. I will answer those four questions and frame my answers as to – why you should consider bringing improv into your organization.

Why this? 

Improv is where strategy & planning meet implementation. Improvisation is a communication-based technique that requires leaders to be present and, in the moment, to listen as the business depends on it, to respond honestly, put other’s thoughts and needs ahead of theirs, and adapt to the unexpected challenges and opportunities.

Improvisational communication lets the leader focus on the things they have control over and ignore the things they have no control over. This helps the leader to be able to have clarity during chaotic times. By doing so, your brain will slow down to focus on the details, the context, and subtext of the conversation to guarantee nothing is missed. The principles of improvisation are respect, trust, support, listen, focus, adapt, and maintain the Yes And mindset.

Improvisation is all about reacting and adapting to a changing landscape by accurately assessing a given situation’s needs, which allows the conversation to move forward in a positive new direction. Improvisation is about building stronger teams, being creative and innovative, collaborate with others, negotiate from a place of win-win, highly focused during times of stress, setting your ego aside for the good of the organization and others, demonstrating empathy, and being very comfortable with the uncomfortable. Improvisation strengthens the leader’s emotional intelligence and their interpersonal skills.

Why now? 

I am writing this book during the COVID-19 global pandemic. If there ever was a time to adopt the improviser’s mindset, it is now. Change is happening all the time – change is either imposed or designed. Leaders need to be adaptable, collaborative, creative, innovative, and embrace risk.  

Embracing risk is not punitive to those who come up with the ideas; it celebrates those ideas even when they F.A.I.L – First Attempt In Learning. If you don’t allow your team to FAIL and punish them for taking a risk, it will take you longer to solve the problem because everyone is living in fear of being punished. Give you team the freedom to fail and watch them grow.

Showing vulnerability as a leader makes them relatable and human. Your leadership inspires your team to become vulnerable and requires the team to set aside their ego for the organization’s good.  The improvisational philosophy is not the 1950s – 1990s leadership, “I will tell you what to do” leadership style.  It is the collaborative and inclusive leadership style that focuses on the team, and not themselves.

Improvisational leadership provides phycological safety to the team. In the article titled “The Five Keys to a Successful Google team” phycological safety is defined as – the ability to speak your mind and feel safe taking risks in front of each other. Google feels “far and away” that phycological safety is most important dynamic behind a successful team  

It is also the exact opposite of the traditional methods of learning and development.  Sitting in a classroom being lectured to for hours upon hours does not increase retention. It increases boredom. It is just a mind mind-numbing data dump of facts, figures, and content that is uninspiring.  We have lost the motivation to engage the audience to action.  When you take the improviser’s mindset, we turn the content into stories, analogies, and metaphors so the audience will pay attention, which increases retention. This is the reason I wrote the book “Taking the Numb Out of Numbers.”

Change is a constant. You can either lead change, follow change, or ignore change.  Leading change gives you a voice in the conversation. Following change allows you to be a witness in the conversation. Ignoring change will lead to unemployment. Which do you prefer?

What do I have to do? 

Leaders need to learn to live in the moment and become engaging with their team. Improvisation helps in building and maintaining relationships while strengthening their focus. Do you have the ability to park your ego and to suspend judgment? If not, give it a try.  Think of it this way – naturally cross your over your chest.  Now cross them the opposite way.  Uncomfortable right? Of course, it is AND if you began crossing your arms differently, at some point it will be comfortable.  That is exactly what change feel like.   Uncomfortable at first AND you will get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Be respectful, be trustworthy, and provide support to others. Influential leaders are better communicators because they “listen to understand,” not “listen to respond.” Empathize with your team and be more vulnerable. Embrace the principles of improvisation into your leadership style and the way you live your life. This sounds simple, and it takes work. Here is an analogy that I have used when taking on large tasks, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!  Practice improvisational leadership every day and watch your team respond positively and become more productive. The best thing is that it doesn’t cost a thing other than changing your mindset to an improviser’s mindset. 

What’s in it for me?

There is a lot in it for you, as the leader—more tremendous respect from your team and others in the organization. You will be the improviser/leader that everyone admires and wants to work with. I have never felt that people work for a leader, that is, a boss. 

Today’s leadership demands more collaboration, less “it’s all about me” approach.  You may have the authority and the power, and that is not leadership. Leadership is the POSITIVE effect you have on another person – Simon Sinek. When you adopt that mindset, you teach everyone in your organization that they are all leaders, no matter the title. Create a culture that inspires others to action, and your influence will be contagious to all. Ask for bad ideas because in the world of improv, “bad ideas are bridges to good ideas – no ideas lead to nothing.” Show that your idea is the setup, not the end solution.  Involve your employees in decision-making, problem-solving, and strategy.  Listen to their ideas, their issues, listen to their feelings with empathy.  Increase your emotional intelligence, along with your teams. Don’t be afraid.  By doing so, your turnover will reduce, engagement will increase, problem-solving with require less time, and your bottom line with grow in ways you could ever imagine.    

Join me on this journey of writing my next book through the vehicle of my podcast.  If you would like to be in this next book on improvisational leadership, please submit stories to me about your improvisational leadership at peter@petermargaritis.com and if I use them in the book, you will receive a free autographed copy once it is published. 

Taking An Innovative Approach To Communication In The Corporate World

What makes a company or corporation great? What is it that makes them truly stand out among their competitors?

Excellent, innovative, and effective communication. This kind of communication invites Productivity, Adaptability, Stronger Relationships, Successful Negotiations, and it brings an end to tired, useless jargon that derails, distracts, and limits every situation.

What is needed is an innovative approach that creates excellent, open, and effective communication, both internally and externally, during the organization’s day-to-day inner workings.

And that innovative approach is found in the principles of Improvisation. Yes, that’s right, Improv. Improv is much, much more than comedy. It is a unique and powerful approach that promotes a simpler, more positive, and effective way to communicate, collaborate, and cooperate as a team – whether with your internal people or external constituents.

At its foundation, Improv is leadership in hyperdrive. 

IMPROV INVITES PRODUCTIVITY  

The foundation for effective leadership is active listening. When leaders listen to their employees and engage them using the skills learned from improv, growth happens.

Improvisation promotes cooperation, and with greater collaboration, productivity goes up. The principles of improv fundamentally create productive interactions because they force people to truly listen to one another. Many companies are discovering the powerful effect this has on the way teams work together. It also has a profound impact on the way clients feel. It shifts the atmosphere of the entire corporation into feeling more energized and in sync.

IMPROV INVITES ADAPTABILITY

In today’s dynamic market, companies need to be adaptable, and learning improv is great for business. The next generation wants to have fun. It has struck the right nerve amongst the younger generations who have taken improvisation classes in business schools and watched the popular show Whose Line is it Anyways. They are driving the face of corporate solutions by sparking creative thinking and ending the corporate jargon that has left innovation stale.

“Yes, and…” is the glue that holds it all together. It is the essential skill used when two people stand on stage to improvise and ADAPT. It is all about adaptability.  They are not allowed to tell each other no.

Replacing the words ‘No’ and ‘yes but” with the improv phrase “yes, and…” will invite active listening, valuable input, and teach how to adapt in the moment for the greatest results! That phrase communicates so much. It is supportive and respectful. It focuses on the conversation rather than shutting it down. It shows you are listening to the other person and trust what they have to offer. “Yes, and…” ties all the fundamental principles of effective communication and adaptation into a practical and productive two-word tool that will cause companies to stand up and standout.

IMPROV BUILDS STRONGER RELATIONSHIPS

Have you ever watched preschoolers play with blocks? They take turns stacking them on top of each other until the blocks get too high, and they topple over – or they like to watch it fall and knock it over on purpose. But the point is that both of them have an agenda. They each want to pick up a block and put it on the tower, and each one probably has an idea about what the tower will look like, but they keep building until they can’t build anymore.

A successful relationship is birthed in the same way – one block at a time – first collaborating, then sharing, and building on each new ‘block’ with a shared vision in mind. That is how you connect with other people.

We are more likely to succeed in our relationships when both parties can envision a common goal. Improvisation teaches us to set aside our agendas and ego and take whatever the other person gives you and go with it. There’s that glue again, “Yes, and…” Successful people all intuitively do this in building strong relationships – they don’t realize they are doing it and using improvisation to make it happen.

IMPROV CREATES SUCCESSFUL NEGOTIATIONS

To succeed in negotiations, we need to drop our agendas long enough to listen—and with respect for all involved truly. It is valid for formal negotiations around a conference table and is the way to success in the daily negotiations of life and career —during a chat with the boss or with one’s spouse, or with a child. This is the kind of straight talk we can cultivate that truly will make the most significant difference.

Six Principles of Improvisation

These six skills will ensure every negotiation has the potential to end with a positive solution: 

1. Take your ego off the table.
2. Respect the other party.
3. Be in the moment (focus).
4. Listen to the other party’s needs and wants. 

5. Adapt to the situation.

6. Yes, and… 

These steps genuinely help in removing emotions from the table. Anthony K. Tjan wrote in a Harvard Business Review blog, “Time and emotion — these are the two things most often wasted during a negotiation. ”And he is very right.”  

We tend to react emotionally and negatively to any points of negotiation that oppose our agenda. And that wastes time. When our negotiation goals are so firmly anchored that we cannot budge, it becomes hard to see any common goal as a solution. Instead, emotions kick in, and egos inflate—and we cease to listen. All we hear is our voice in our head, trying to find a way back to what we want.

  • Tom Yorton was once in the corporate ranks before becoming CEO of Second City Communications, the business solutions division of the world-renowned improv comedy company, The Second City. He had this to say in a recent Business Innovation Factory article, “But my experience – and in fact, my scars – are from bumping up against the same organizational hurdles that improv is so effective at helping companies get over – challenges that include connecting with customers, engaging employees around change, moving into new markets, innovating new products and services, working without a script.”

It is something brought to the table that was unexpected. It halts forward momentum. It is something that doesn’t neatly fit inside the box of your agenda.

  • Daena Giardella teaches an improvisational leadership class at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. She spends an entire lesson on teaching how to avoid using the most common block, the “yes, but.” In an NPR article, she points out, “Even though you say, ‘Yes,’ the but says, Yeah, but that’s not valid because here is the better point.”

Negotiations can quickly come to a grinding halt when “yes, but” comes to the table. It is when emotions get heated and time gets wasted. 

Time to remember the 6 principles of improvisation! 

END USELESS JARGON 

We all have some of our favorite “buzz words” we like to use, and some we can’t stand. They are great at creating imagery, but is it the kind of imagery that allows everyone to be on the same page? Think about a few of these common corporate buzz words used in many meetings and emails during the day-to-day. Do they create a clear path, or is there just a buzz in the room? Here are some common buzzwords and what I think of when I hear them:

  • Benchmarking: my photo on a bus stop bench
    Back of the Envelope: we need more legal pads 
  • Go the Extra Mile: a sweaty dude 
  • Best Practices: a Hallmark card 

None of these buzz words mean anything anymore. Too many of them in the conversation, and the listeners, if they are even that anymore, tune out. They are empty words and provide very little clear direction and no focus that employees can rally behind. With no clear path, stress increases, and productivity goes down. It becomes everyone doing what they think ‘best practices’ means.

What if we replaced the jargon with more direct and more precise speech? A company that states the customer service policy as “we strive to provide top-notch service to all of our customers” can be replaced with “we listen to the customers and meet their expectations.”

“Yes, and… let’s hold a quarterly brainstorming session with all the employees to think of ways we can show the customers we are listening.”

IMPROV IS LEADERSHIP IN HYPERDRIVE

Improvisation promotes innovative thinking by taking the conversation and pushing it forward into the future. That is what a good leader does. Ed Herbstman, a co-founder of the Magnet Theater, a New York-based theater conducting corporate training, has even helped teach courses for companies like Google. He said, “When you’re the person saying yes to other people, they start to bring you their best ideas. When you’re meeting things habitually with ‘yes, and,’ with an energy of agreement, you transform the way people perceive you.”

When more people are willing to speak up with their ideas because they know they will be heard, employees take a more vested role in the job they have. Their performance goes up. People get excited about seeing their vision, no longer just the “head honcho’s” vision, begin to take shape. It sets companies up on the stage while others are left looking for a chair in the audience.

Excellent, innovative, and effective communication that makes a company great and genuinely stands out among its competitors requires excellent, creative, and effective communication.  

It invites Productivity, Adaptability, Stronger Relationships, Successful Negotiations, and it brings an end to tired, useless jargon that derails, distracts, and limits every situation.

And can all be found in the innovative approach of Improvisation.

If you would like to discuss having me facilitate an Improv is Leadership in Hyperdrive workshop to your organization, contact me at peter@petermargaritis.com and in the subject line put “Improv is Leadership in Hyperdrive.”

All Ideas Are Important Ideas

Are you looking for a new way to generate ideas to solve your problems? Do you have a culture in place that accepts that all ideas are important ideas? Do you think of yourself as a creative person? What about your team?

David Kelley, CEO of legendary design firm IDEO, spoke about the importance of building creative confidence. He relayed a classmate’s experience early on in elementary school, being ridiculed by a peer about the project he was trying to create. As a result, his classmate immediately shut down and quit the project, feeling discouraged about his peer’s opinion. Kelley went on to talk about how we can often “opt-out” of being creative due to this kind of experience – we tell ourselves that we’re not creative, so, therefore, it’s somehow true. He stressed how wrong this is and how important it is for us to understand and realize that we are all naturally creative – we’re not divided into “creatives” and “non-creatives.”

In creative workshops with accounting professionals, I always stress the need to think about more than just facts. Accountants are very facts-oriented people. The challenge is to get them to see more to their profession than just the facts and figures. Many of them feel just as Kelley described, that they somehow aren’t cut out to be creative or that they aren’t capable.

However, the important thing for all of us in technical professions and a few other professions that are generally considered “not creative” is to realize that – indeed, we are creative! Creativity is, simply put, your ability to generate ideas.  And we all certainly do that, and the more, the better!  So, remember, your involvement in the creative process is just as real and just as important as anyone else’s.

IMPROV BEYOND THE STAGE

Business schools across America have taken note of the importance of idea generation and creative thinking in the business world. For the past several years, programs have started offering courses that help students not only learn ways to promote freer thinking and brainstorming, but to adopt principles of improvisation in order to facilitate this creativity. One of the most powerful principles of improv is found in the practice of the “yes, and…” approach.

Bob Kulhan, an influential promoter of getting improvisation into business schools across America, summed up the idea of “yes, and…” in a Slate article, “When they’re collaborating onstage, improv performers never reject one another’s ideas—they say “yes, and” to accept and build upon each new contribution.” “It’s a total philosophy of creativity,” says Holly Mandel, founder of the performance school Improvolution and its corporate-targeted offshoot Imergence. “Yes, and” creates; while ‘no’ stops the flow.

It’s this “yes, and…” principle of improv that gets ideas churning up and out of people’s heads. This is not only applicable for others, but for ourselves as well. We are often our own harshest critic – a critic that is quick to dismiss our ideas as ‘stupid’.  We need to silence that critic in order for creativity to surface! In reality, there are no stupid ideas – every one of them leads somewhere, and it’s especially important in brainstorming to let all ideas rise. In creativity workshops, I stress the importance that no idea is a bad idea.  All ideas lead to a better idea. Therefore, ALL ideas are important. So, whatever is in your head, let it out!  Even if the inner critic is shouting at you – shout it down and let the idea out! Ideas (good or bad) lead to better ideas. No ideas lead to nothing.

GETTING THOSE IDEAS OUT

Remember, when we are brainstorming ideas, we are looking for quantity not quality. You can’t create and criticize in the same space.  Successful ideation requires divergent thinking, which is a process used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions. Once we have completed the generation of ideas, we then change to convergent thinking. Convergent thinking is where we take those ideas and organize them and take steps to see if we can arrive at the correct solution. In other words, you can now become the critic! 

There are many exercises that you can employ in your brainstorming process. One of my favorites is outrageous opposites.  If you have a problem to solve, step one is to brainstorm traditional approaches in solving the problem.  Step 2 is to brainstorm outrageous ideas in solving the problem.  When you are finished, look at the outrageous ideas and see if there is anything you can expand on.  For example:

Number of participants: 1 – 20

Problem: Recruiting seasoned staff for our company

Traditional approaches: Monster.com adds, Indeed.com ads, hire a headhunter, offer a referral bonus to current staff, etc…

Outrageous approaches: hire a blimp to fly over sporting event, place ads in restrooms, have an open house, create a fun YouTube video about your company, etc…

Review your outrageous approaches and see which ones might actually work for your organization.  There is a regional accounting firm, Withum Smith + Brown, that did fun YouTube videos to help increase the moral in the company.  These were actually so good that seasoned staffed from other accounting firms applied for positions with their firm.  Here is a link to one of those videos https://youtu.be/ZCs7O6cJgiQ.

Another favorite brainstorming exercise is called “Kill the business.” Instead of thinking of ways to grow your business, this is an exercise that focuses on ways to put your company out of business.  Your team is looking at the company’s weaknesses and listing them as a small, medium, or large threat.  Once these weaknesses have been identified and categorized, then answer a couple of questions: 

What did we not think about before that we can see now? 

What could attack us now and how can we quickly eliminate the threat?

Which one is the most important weaknesses that we must fix? 

This is an eye-opening exercise that will uncover opportunities that you may not have discovered using conventional thinking.  

There are a number of resources where you can find brainstorming exercises.  Here are a couple:

  • SmartStorming: The Game-Changing Process for Generating Bigger, Better Ideas. By Keith Harmeyer and Mitchell Rigie. 
  • Improvisation for the Theater, Third Edition, Viola Spolin (these exercises can be debriefed from a business perspective).

IMPLEMENTING A CREATIVE WORKPLACE

In the end, the workplace needs leaders that inspire and encourage the expression of creativity. John Dragoon, CMO of Novell was quoted in Forbes saying, “Truly creative leaders invite disruptive innovation, encourage others to drop outdated approaches and take balanced risks. They are openminded and inventive in expanding their management and communication styles, particularly to engage with a new generation of employees, partners and customers.”

This doesn’t happen overnight, but if the leadership encourages the generation of ideas, some of them are bound to produce impressive results. Not all the ideas are going to work, no matter how much product testing and field work a company conducts. Some ideas will go nowhere, but if you have no ideas, you certainly will go nowhere.

When it comes to creativity and generating ideas, all are needed, and all are wanted. While what comes out might be a bit rough, with a little polishing and fine tuning, the result can be quite extraordinary.

If you would like to discuss having me facilitate a brainstorming session for your organization, contact me at peter@petermargaritis.com and in the subject line put “ALL IDEAS ARE IMPORTANT IDEAS.”