Most entrepreneurs know they need to be heads down, focused, in order to achieve their goals.  And along the way they see the value of having their ducks in a row—whether it's identifying who they are trying to attract or crafting a compelling message or developing a solid business model. 

The entrepreneur's secret weapon has nothing to do with planning or working hard and everything to do with being in the moment and playing. It's the art of improvisation.

Patricia ryan madson A year ago, I interviewed Patricia Ryan Madson, author of Improv Wisdom, for this blog. She's a wisdom entrepreneur intent on bringing the wisdom of improv to help people in their every day lives. Little did I know that I would come back to her book a year later, spurred on by the insight that improv could help me as an entrepreneur.

The story starts about a month ago. Burned out from my recent start-up, My Alumni Link, business was no longer fun. The joy had been squeezed out of this project, in direct correlation to the tightness of my grip on controlling the results.  "Must have X number of registrants for my webinar series."  "Series must be flawlessly executed, from reminder emails for participants to the VOIP technology used to listen to the webinars to visually enticing slides." And on and on it went.

With the encouragement of a friend, I signed up for an improv workshop, one that I had been pining over since I tried to take it three years ago, got sick, and had to cancel. Since then, my Gremlin had kept my creative muse shuttered, believing that there was never a good time to spend an evening and a day, just playing, with others. And especially not during the the weekend before the start of my webinar series. 

ImprovThat weekend, I found my mojo again. I was like a traveler in the desert who found water, and had forgotten how water was essential to life. I laughed. I cried.  I made quirky sounds and moved my body in odd ways, with a quickness that felt foreign but exhilarating. I was asked to show and embrace intense emotion–joy, frustration, anger, compassion–as a way to expand my emotional range when improvising. It was ten times more than I usually express in my daily life. It felt good to clean off the emotional barnacles that had built up over months and leave with a fresh coat of paint. I tapped into my imagination, the things I couldn't see but which I had to feel my way through. I signed up for another class the following weekend.

More importantly, when I got back in the office, I was calm and refreshed.  I didn't have the need to do, but rather to enjoy what I was doing or not do it. I learned to say "Yes, and" to whatever was showing up.  Improv got me back in the flow of the Universe, instead of trying to control or resist it. Now, I'm the raft riding the river, instead of the rock in the middle, being worn down over time.

White water rafting Why is this so important as an entrepreneur? Because entrepreneurship is a journey down the river. There will be ups and downs and all kinds of surprises. No matter how well you prepare, things will not go as planned. You think you've got it figured out and here comes another rapid, swirling around you. It threatens to take you into the undertow, unless you stay alert to conditions of the moment, and know how to pop out and get back into the flow of the river. Photo by Rob and Jules

There's a passage from Patricia's book, Improv Wisdom, that I've underlined and marked with a bright pink Post-It note. Here it is:

"A good improviser is someone who is awake, not entirely self-focused, and moved by a desire to do something useful and give something back and who acts upon this impulse."  

Let this be a guidepost for entrepreneurs everywhere. Give yourself the gift of improv and if not that, learn the lessons of improv with Patricia's book, Improv Wisdom.

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  1. Bill Seliger on March 9, 2010 at 7:37 am


    Great post. The “journey” concept can easily be extended to our career and even life in general (“Life is a journey down the river. There will be ups and downs…”) Improvisational abilities are something I use almost everyday but I never thought of exercising them through a class – that sounds like it would be a lot of fun.


  2. Carol Ross on March 9, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    Hi Bill,

    Thanks for bringing up the point that life is a journey and a series of improvisations. And yes, I think you would love an improv class–it really sharpens the mind, opens up the imagination, and teaches you to trust your instincts. I can’t think of many creative forms that combines so much in one process.

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