The Improv Is No Joke Podcast

Welcome to the Improv Is No Joke podcast hosted by Peter Margaritis, AKA The Accidental Accountant and author of the book 'Improv Is No Joke, Using Improvization to Create Positive Results in Leadership and Life'. This podcast series is also available on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher.

How Do You Eat an Elephant?

Has anyone ever asked you this question “How do you eat an elephant?” This question has never been asked to me, and I discovered it while reading an article. This question and answer is a powerful metaphor for learning and development for all professionals.  The answer to the question is “one bite at a time.”  

Think about it, and if you tried to eat an entire elephant in one sitting, you would get sick. From that experience, you would never want to try to eat an elephant again. However, when you take your time eating one bite at a time, over a period of weeks or months, you would be able to consume the entire elephant.

Another way of thinking about this metaphor is that you have back issues and decide to strengthen your core by doing stomach crunches.  You have not done any abs exercises since Nixon was President of the United States.  Day one, you choose to do ten crunches, and you have success without any muscle cramps. You continue this daily trend, and by day 20, you might be up to 30 crunches by adding one additional crunch a day (small bites). By the end of three months, you might be able to do 75 crunches. However, when you look in the mirror, you don’t see any difference in your body shape, and your back is still giving you issues. Yet, you don’t give up, and you keep on putting in the daily work. This is the journey I started back in November of 2020.  This morning, September 3, 2021, I successfully did 1,000 crunches which took me 14 minutes. As a result, my back is stronger, and I even have a better definition in my abs. 

The question now becomes – How long does it take to create a habit?  If you search the internet, you will find that it takes 21 days.  However, that is a myth.  According to research, it takes 66 days to start a habit. That’s right, a little over two months to START the habit AND don’t forget to continue this habit development every single day, if possible. So if you miss a day or two, don’t get discouraged, start again, and try not to put too much distance between when you stopped and then started again. And don’t beat yourself up because you miss a day or two or even a week. 

I began 20 + years ago adopting the mindset of an improviser.  I would leave sticky notes around the house, my car, and my office that said Yes! And. I wanted to keep those words accessible to me so I could create a habit and enact change. Unfortunately, over the 20 + years, I have fallen off the improv wagon way too many times than I wish to count. I would have to force myself back on the improv wagon and away from my old habits in the early years.  Getting back on the improv wagon was not easy at all. I was very comfortable with my earlier bad habits – letting my ego get out of control, not being a good listener, and trying to make it all about me.  However, I felt that those were not the suitable characteristics for a good leader and business professional, despite the behaviors I was witnessed by my current bosses/leaders.  

So, I would get back on the improv wagon and keep working toward my goal.  I learned that the amount of time it took me to get back on the improv wagon decreased because I was building up solid improv skills.  

Why is “one bite at a time” essential to learning and development for all professionals? Let’s break it down into two pieces – technical learning and development and non-technical learning and development.

Technical learning and development is the mastery of your technical competency. 

You want your surgeon to be technically sound as they cut into your body. You want your attorney to be technically sound while they are representing you in a jury trial. You want your insurance salesperson to be technically sound in the insurance policy they are offering their clients. Features, benefits, and side-effects are valuable information that is memorized to avoid getting policies confused with other policies or products. 

You developed the foundation for these technical skills during your college years. That foundation allows you to elevate into developing your complex technical skills.  

Non-technical learning and development, ahh, okay, let’s change this to Power Skills learning and development.  Today’s technical professionals (accounting, finance, engineering, health care, etc.) need to develop the mastery of power skills: communication, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, listening, adapting, strategic thinking, innovation, and more. When you sum all of these power skills into one, it becomes LEADERSHIP.  

Okay, I see some Scooby-Doo heads tilted and thinking, why?  I am technically sound in my craft, so why do I need to invest time into developing my so-called power skills to become a leader.

Let me sum it up in two parts. 

Part 1, the technical knowledge, jargon, and acronyms you spent years developing are now considered foreign languages. Have you ever had a meeting with your CPA, and you had no idea what the person was trying to say when you left? For example, I had a conversation with my doctor concerning some test results, and a massive tsunami of medical lingo consumed me.  I stopped her and politely said, “I have no idea what you just said. Can you tell me in plain English?” She paused and then said, “You may have cancer”. Okay – I heard and understood those words. And that gives me the knowledge I need to know what I possibly am dealing with (it was not cancer, thankfully). 

Anyone in any technical profession needs to become a better translator of their knowledge and expertise into plain English so others can understand and act upon the information.

Part 2, what business are you in?  It seems like a silly and simple question to answer, right? Yet, when I ask this question during a keynote or workshop to a group of CPAs, I get replies like auditing, tax, consulting, data analysis, etc.  I reply, “that is not the business you are in. That is the by-product of the actual business you are in”.  I take it to the point that either someone gives me the correct answer or it looks like someone wants to punch me out.  The correct answer is – you are in the people business, first and foremost. Without PEOPLE, you have no business!

I hope you ponder this thought for a while and come to realize that I am correct.  Since we are in the people business, we better develop those critical skills, or we will be out of business.  Business improv develops all of the critical people skills that everyone in an organization needs to master. Business improv is about letting go of your agenda to listen intently — to be empathetic and open-minded in the present moment — so you can truly connect with colleagues and other stakeholders to generate optimal results.

Think about that elephant and what that elephant represents – Leadership. Now, take one bite at a time and start investing in your power skills so you can have a greater impact on the people you hire, on the people you lead, on your customers and clients, on the people that are your business partners, the people in your community, and the people of the world.

Ep. 99 – A Very Special Announcement About the Next 100 Episodes

Today I’m celebrating my 100th episode (because I technically started this show with episode 0) – and I have a special announcement for all of you.

 

First, I’d like to thank all of the guests who have given their time and shared their knowledge with my audience – without you, we never would have reached this milestone. I’d also like to thank my audience, especially those of you who listen every week. I hope you’ve been able to gather some nuggets of wisdom and applied them in your everyday life!

 

Now for my special announcement: I’m re-branding the podcast and changing its name to “Change Your Mindset | with Peter Margaritis, CPA, CGMA, AKA The Accidental Accountant.” I will also be changing from a weekly schedule to a bi-weekly schedule for a period of time.

 

Note: If you are already subscribed to the podcast, you do not have to change anything. The title of the show will simply be updated in your podcast app of choice.

 

Why the change? I want to serve the accounting profession better than I have over the last 100 episodes.

 

I firmly believe that, in the next five to 10 years, the accounting profession will move from a compliance role to more of an advisory role – we have to quit thinking about the way it used to be and listen to the younger generation on where they feel it’s going to go.

 

The essential skills CPAs will need by the year 2025 are communication skills; leadership skills; critical thinking & problem solving skills; anticipating & serving evolving needs; and synthesizing intelligence through insight, integration, and collaboration: otherwise known as interpersonal skills, people skills, or soft skills.

 

Building strong communication skills does begin with embracing the principles of improvisation – or, more accurately: Building strong communication skills begins with embracing the APPLIED principles of improvisation.

 

And applied improvisation is not about making jokes, becoming a comedian, or just being silly, which is what a lot of people think when they hear the term improv. Instead, applied improvisation takes these techniques and applies them to business, relationships, and life.

 

The style, dialogue, and conversation about applied improvisation will not change – that is the essence of the message in Changing Your Mindset because applied improvisation builds relationships, develops people, strengthens corporate cultures, and increases an organization’s bottom line – but with an increased focus on why (and how) we need to change our mindsets, if we want our businesses to survive the next 10 years.

 

And while our conversations will focus on the accounting profession, what we will talk about applies to every profession and the challenges we all face on a daily basis.

 

So even if you are not a CPA, this may be the platform that will allow you to move away from group think by hearing the thoughts and ideas of people who are different form you, but striving for the same result: happiness and prosperity.

 

 

Resources:

Ep. 98 – Scott Palmer | Improvisation in the Workplace: Disarming Angry Customers & Remembering How to Communicate

Scott Palmer is the Executive Director of Adult Education at Butler Technology and Career Development Schools, and he joins me to discuss how the principles of improvisation have helped him create a collaborative environment with his team, his students, and the institution.

 

Scott has been in adult education for more than two decades, and he loves this work because he is able to help others realize lifelong goals, whether that be pursuing a degree, completing a certificate, or getting a job.

 

Scott has always utilized improvisation, subconsciously, but over the last couple years, he’s been making a point of using the principles of improvisation to consciously improve his communication.

 

Improv & Angry Customers

 

Scott gets ample opportunity to practice because, like many of us, he deals with angry customers on a regular basis. The practice seems to be paying off, because he’s learned a lot!

 

When a customer comes in angry, they usually just want to be heard. However, a natural reaction to an angry person is getting defensive – but that’s the worst thing you can do with an angry customer.

 

Scott’s goal is to disarm the angry person, without them knowing they’re being disarmed. He does this by listening, expressing empathy, and asking questions that give the other person an opportunity to be part of a solution (e.g. What would you like to see happen?). This conversation is about them, not you.

 

“Being grateful, the simple act of saying thank you and saying please, and showing respect through communication goes a very long way, especially when working with students and customers.”

 

You don’t have to like them to effectively communicate or improvise with someone – but you do have to respect them.

 

“People have forgotten how to communicate. The technology has allowed us to become lazy and insincere in the ways that we communicate, and I would suggest that we, as people, are suffering as a result.”

 

 

Resources:

  • Check out Butler Technology and Career Development Schools at ButlerTech.org

Improv Is No Joke is produced by Podcast Masters

Ep. 97 – Kay Frances | Lighten Up & Stress Less with America’s Funniest Stressbuster

Kay Frances is a motivational humorist who has shared her message to “lighten up, stress less and take care of ourselves” for over 30 years. Kay is “America’s Funniest Stressbuster” – and she even wrote the book on stress, The Funny Thing about Stress; A Seriously Humorous Guide to a Happier Life!

 

When it comes to humor, Kay is the real deal. She performed as a professional stand up comedian for many years and appeared on a number of national television and radio programs. Plus, as you’ll hear in this episode, I was laughing throughout the entire interview!

 

But Kay isn’t just funny; she uses humor to put her examples in a context that is relatable to everyone in the audience. However, when she is discussing ways to reduce stress, she is very serious and to the point – and this ability to make you laugh, while remaining serious about the message, is what elevates her to the level of a great humorist (and stressbuster).

 

For the accountants out there, this is an especially stressful time of year – but Kay has some advice:

 

  • Knowing how stressful this period of the year will be, it is even more important to let go of stress about things that don’t matter.
  • Self-care is more important than ever. We all know that we operate better on a good night’s sleep than three hours of sleep. Eating a bag of Cheetos may sound better than a salad, but you will feel and function better after the salad.
  • You have to make time for relaxing (without compromising your self-care). Even though it may not feel like you have time to wind down, making time for it will actually give you more energy throughout the rest of your day.
  • Learn to say NO. You’ll have more time in the other 8 months of the year, but you have to protect your time during the busy season; you have to make yourself a priority.
  • Be optimistic! The American Heart Association found that, all things being equal, people with an optimistic spirit have better heart health, a stronger immune system, and a decreased risk of stroke.

 

 

Resources:

Ep. 96 – Bob Pacanovsky | Develop a Black Tie Mindset & Discover the Power of Hospitality

Bob Pacanovsky is what you might call a “Wow!” expert – with 20 years of entrepreneurial experience, primarily in the hospitality space, he has learned how create engagement, retention, and loyalty with customers, employees, and clients. Bob took that expertise and founded The Black Tie Experience, which helps companies and leaders create that Black Tie Experience for their customers and employees.

The black tie is much more than a uniform – it’s a mindset. You don’t actually have to have a black tie on to deliver a Black Tie Mindset, you just have to create an impression that LASTS:

  • Look
  • Act
  • Speak
  • Tact (or how you behave)
  • Serve

We tend to rush to the service part because we want to create an unbelieve customer or employee experience, but “we have to know how to look the part and act the part before we can actually serve the part.”

One of the most important things to keep in mind – and this can be difficult – when working with other people, whether they’re your customers or employees, is that it’s not about you as a host or leader, it’s about them.

“If you have a mindset of making people feel differently about your product, your service, and themselves than they ever have before, then you’re really living the Black Tie Mindset.”

The 4 Principles to Create a Black Tie Experience:

  1. A Culture of Welcome – Create a welcoming culture (not only for your employees, but also for your customers or guests). What is the culture, or the atmosphere, like in your company?
  2. The Way of Doings Things – What is your company’s way of doings things? Disney, Apple, and Starbucks all have their own unique way of doings things, and it affects how you experience their brands. However, most companies aren’t spending enough time training their employees to wow people.
  3. Impact Points – These are the subconscious impressions that people make about your business before, during, or after they purchase something. For example, what impression does your website make, or what does your restroom look like?
  4. Put Yourself in your Customer’s Shoes – What does your customer see, hear, touch, or smell when they come into your business, or interact with you online?

You’ve probably heard me say in the past that we’re all in the people business, even if we’re accountants – Bob takes it a step farther, arguing that we’re all in the hospitality business… and it makes a lot of sense!

The definition of hospitality is, “The art of making that personal connection with someone,” and based on that definition, aren’t we all in the hospitality business, first and foremost?

So yes, we are in the people business, and we do need to focus on customer and employee experiences and retention, but we can’t excel at those things if we forget about the power of hospitality.

 

 

Resources:

Improv Is No Joke is produced by Podcast Masters