Every year I take a class that scares the bejesus out of me. In doing so I always learn more than I thought possible and learn about things I didn’t think I was signing up for.
Last week I took a writing/performance class at Kripalu led by actor-performer Ann Randolph. There were 18 of we “students,” all from so many backgrounds — librarian, Broadway musical actor, therapist, retired pediatrician, eco-travel planner, nurse, rehab counselor, choreographer, English teacher. As always, I wondered the first Sunday night, “what’s a marketing chick like me doing here?” Well, sure it was my passion for exploring some new writing voices. And finding ideas and courage to move along a wacky idea about a performance piece about finding the middle management escape hatch.
But what I learned about business from six days of intensive writing, improv, listening and sharing was this:
1. Creating environments of trust: the talent and stories that emerged from the class got richer, more adventures and more engaging as the week went on. The reason for this is that Ann created an environment of trust, where it felt safe to reveal and try out ideas and characters and know that you — the person — would not be “judged.” Do we as managers spend enough time nurturing trust so that people do take risks? So that innovation can happen?
2. How to give good feedback: After each person read his or her piece Ann started the feedback, focusing on two things: what I liked…what I would like to see more of. There was no commenting about the content in class. If you wanted to get into that you had to take it offline with the person during meals. Commenting on the work, not the person helps improve the work because it’s not about the person. So basic, yes, but so forgotten during our day to day work.
3. The listening thing: I’ve written so much about listening as a marketing strategy, but boy did I “get” listening in a new way when we had to do improv exercises where you really need to be listening to the other person or persons in the situation in order to add the next bit. In life and business I guess we’re too often thinking about what to say next as we listen. The improv work made me appreciate that listening means turning off that little gabby creature in the head and tuning in with all of you — feeling what’s being said even more than hearing what’s being said. The feeling thing clues you in to what is really meant.
4. I dare you: how often does someone give you permission to think or write or act about something taboo? In business, maybe never. To me, being given permission to let it rip about taboo or politically incorrect topics — or something that really pisses me off — opened up so many ideas, and did so really quickly. Blogging has helped many of us dip our toe into this, but I can now see so many constructive ways to build this into marketing planning and problem solving.
5. Seeing patterns emerge: the more you write, the more you see what you like, what interests you. Patterns emerged from everyone’s writing over the six days, kind of gently slapping everyone in the face about the story they want to tell. Same thing can happen in business. I’ve blogged about marketing now for six years and asked our college intern to scan through the blogs and summarize the patterns. Unbelievably fascinating, and a signal about where my business passion lies. And, as we all know, when we focus on that passion zone, really great work happens.
6. Play more. During a yoga dance class at lunch an instructor teaching the Cha-cha said “sometimes it’s easier to follow directions than play.” I literally stopped dancing, and said to myself, “No Way.” Being able to play with no or few rules, gives us permission to find new ideas. The rule thing shuts it all down. It’s hard to put aside the “rules” and the “this-is-how-you-do-it” that have been ingrained in us. And if you’ve been successful, putting aside the “this-is-what-makes-success” is even harder. How as managers can we temper the rules?
7. Weird environments: The class was held at Kripalu, a yoga and spiritual retreat center in western Massachusetts. Lots of nuts and granola. No meat, no sugar, no alcohol, no wearing shoes in the meeting rooms — and no conference tables or chairs. Sit on the floor, people. Wireless connectivity at night sometimes, but other times no access. No cell phones allowed in the main building. Being in such a different space frees you up and lets you leave your normal patterns and that leaving is where you find the new. (Though, Julie and I did do a secret wine run on Thurs. night, sneaking it in the back door, where we all had a glass in little plastic cups. The sneaking and acting like little kids was actually much more fun the wine itself.)
8. Feel the hands. Bill Moyers once asked Joseph Campbell, “Do you ever have a sense of being helped by hidden hands?” To which Campbell replied:
” All the time. It is miraculous. I even have a superstition that has grown on me as a result of invisible hands coming all the time — namely, that if you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.
During the week at “camp” my agent called to say that my book proposal — a radical departure from any business writing I’ve ever done — is seriously being considered my a major publisher. The proposal has been out for eight weeks without a bite. Then last week while at this amazing writers workshop the call comes. Talk about invisible hands.
It’s back to busines now, but I feel so fresh. Fresh in the “new” sense — not fresh like a kid. And, funny enough, marketing looks a whole lot more interesting.
I recommend scary vacations.