I joined a stand up comedy class to improve my public speaking.
Or perhaps I’m just taking on more fears because I have to tell you – If you’re scared of public speaking, stand-up makes a speech feel like your own Bar Mitzvah.
My first time in class I bombed. And I felt depressed afterward. It felt like being picked last in gym class. But I was determined to be funnier. I studied the book, I went to comedy clubs, I looked for jokes everywhere I went. And it felt awful.
I suddenly related to the stereotype of comedians being depressed and lonely inside. I didn’t laugh as much because I was too busy deconstructing humor. And I certainly was not present for my life as I kept thinking about new material.
Ironically I was not listening to the advice I was telling friends and my own clients…
“Stop trying so hard.”
I did stop trying so hard. I stopped trying completely. I told my teacher I quit. Life is too short. I want my peace of mind back.
She told me I’m overthinking it and promised that if I come back she won’t let me down.
“Remember when I said comedy can drive you crazy if you let it? It’s just another thing the voice in your head is using. And if you quit now, that voice will tell you that you never even gave it a shot.”
I realized that at a sheer minimum this is an exercise in commitment – seeing something through from start to finish.
The next day in class we did a writer’s workshop, giving feedback and ideas on each other’s material. It was such a breath of fresh air to feel like part of a team again. I thought stand-up had to be lonely and it doesn’t. (I love that feeling of old beliefs falling off).
So now it’s Friday. There’s an open mic at 8pm. The sun is setting. I sit outside with my laptop, organizing my material. I feel so peaceful in my entire body. Something feels very right.
I print out my material and go to the garage to practice. I’m amazed that I can do most of the act without looking at my notes. The material feels great. I don’t know if it’s funny, but I enjoy saying it.
As I drive to the open mic, I’m in the flow. Every song on the radio sounds perfect. I envision myself on stage. I’m not even thinking about the laughs. I’m just thinking about how good it feels to be up there.
No matter what happens tonight, I did it. I feel like I’ve already won.
I arrive and there are 11 comics ahead of me. I remember our teacher saying that open mics are really just tests, so a lot of their material won’t be funny (And comedians don’t laugh a whole lot to begin with).
Well, not this night. Each person feels like they’re nailing it! I’m forgetting about my fears just because I’m laughing so much. I’m touched by their honesty and their vulnerability. I find myself oddly proud of them and rooting for them.
It’s my turn. I go up and my material flows out. People are laughing – sometimes just one person, but sometimes the crowd. By no means am I killing it, but it feels like a party compared to bombing.
I feel peaceful, confident, in the flow. My 5 minute act feels like 30 seconds.
I stay for more acts, then head home and sleep peacefully.
I thought comedy was analogous to public speaking (if you think of public speaking like going into the army, and comedy like joining the Navy Seals).
In public speaking, you can be a natural. With great presence and great stories you can kill it right out of the gate. But in comedy, the best will take you it takes 10 years.
I’ve realized comedy is less like public speaking and more like music. It’s all about timing, rhythm, flow, tone. And how many people pick up a guitar and instantly play songs?
It’s about word choice, and body language. And it’s about running experiments with different deliveries. It’s classic practice and play over perfection.
I don’t know where I’m going with this art, this craft (or this blog post!). But as always, I’ll keep you posted. Thanks for coming along with me for the journey.
At my 20-year high school reunion I ran into a friend who is now a director. When I told him about my work he said culture means everything for a great production. I was surprised. I thought the industry was driven by great individual talents. I thought great culture would be a “nice to have” but not a total necessity to create great movies and TV.
“People don’t know this but when you watch a scene and you’re not feeling it, there’s often a breakdown on the set. Cast are fighting with each other or the crew is upset, and they bring all of that with them to the scene.”
I started to notice the TV shows I like and realized that I can feel it. The distinction for me is I can tell when the actors really love each other. It’s easy to see it in a show like Orange is the New Black. You can tell they’re at the top of their game and they love working with each other.
I noticed that Ed Catmull confirmed the importance of culture in his book about the Pixar creative process. He was asked when he decides to let the director and crew run with a project and when they intervene. He answered saying it’s simple: They are completely hands off, letting the creative team do their thing, unless… the crew is not getting along. That’s when it goes off the rails. And that’s when they step in.
I’m sure they have ways to get back on track. For me, it’s the Obstacle Breakthrough process I describe in The Culture Blueprint. It’s a process of airing out all of the bad in a safe way, then acknowledging what’s really working well and then creating a shared future.
What do you do when your team or project goes off the rails?
Perhaps the most popular version of the agile methodology is Scrum. And co-creator Jeff Sutherland just published a book on it to take agile to the mainstream. It’s called Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time.
It’s rated 4.5 stars. Not bad at all. But what I found most interesting was the first, most helpful review…
It’s so telling because installing Scrum is like installing any kind of social system (which I define as a framework of prescribed language, protocols and meetings). And that means it comes down to culture.
A social system won’t take unless people opt-in. And if they do opt-in, they need to have choice as to how it’s implemented. It’s that simple, and yet so many companies mandate agile, scrum, holacracy, lean startup, etc.
When it’s mandated, people get anxious. And that can torpedo the best of intentions.
Martin Fowler, signatory of the Agile Manifesto said, “I would rather have a team work in a non-agile manner they chose themselves than have my favorite agile practices imposed on them.” His blog post continues to say, “I hope I’ve made it clear that imposing agile methods is a very red flag.”
The answer is invitation. The answer is to test and inspect, and what works will spread.
Nothing succeeds like success. Let that prove it, rather than strong-arming, coercion, or even selling and “buy-in.”
I’ll be writing more about it as I’ve found nothing more powerful when it comes to culture transformation.
As I talk about in the Culture Blueprint, companies that share their culture processes freely with the world ironically strengthen their competitive advantage. Here is the latest example from Google. They are sharing their sprint design process in a new book.
Sprints will be a growing buzzword. It comes from the agile world. The idea is that everything is changing so fast that planning long development cycles (marathons) are no longer working. Instead the best commit to a set workload for a couple weeks, and then stop, rest and evaluate their work. They then make adjustments and plan the workload for their next sprint.
To make the point, who looks healthier – a competitive marathon runner or a sprinter?…
Of course, using sprints or agile is easier said than done. The book Scrum describes it. But look at the first review (that’s the one ranked “most helpful”). It says, “I (among others) struggle to get scrum to work well. I was kind of hoping the book would cover such topics… But all scenarios described is all fine and dandy as soon as they started applying scrum.”
Absolutely. You can have a great process, technique or software, but if the culture is not behind it, it will never stick. Daniel Mezick and I have been using an Open Culture process that lets teams themselves figure out how to implement it, rather than the top down approach that does not work. I’ll be sharing more about it in future posts.
“The harder we try with the conscious will to do something, the less we shall succeed. Proficiency and the results of proficiency come only to those who have learned the paradoxical art of doing and not doing, or combining relaxation with activity, of letting go as a person in order that the immanent and transcendent Unknown Quantity may take hold. ”
“The secret in Taoism is to get out of one’s own way, and to learn that this pushing ourselves, instead of making us more efficient, actually interferes with everything we set about to do…following the Tao is the art of feeling our way into our own nature.”