It was lunchtime at the Applied Improvisation Network (AIN) conference this past weekend, and I was talking with another first-timer to the conference. I felt rather pleased that I was connecting people that I didn’t even know!
But the guy — let’s call him A — seemed skeptical.
“Yeah, I met Ted,” he said. “But I don’t know… We live in the same area, so aren’t we competitors? And really, aren’t all of us here at the conference competitors?”
It was a valid question. 200 improvisers, who use improv in our work in an applied way — i.e. Applied Improv — convening together for four days.
Aren’t we competing for clients? Competing for business? Competing for scarce resources?
Well, as I said to A, that’s certainly one attitude to take. You could look at the 200 people at this conference as competitors, competing with you for scarce resources. End of story.
But is that a useful perspective?
And if that were the perspective of the other people here, this conference wouldn’t be happening. I mean, come on, people are here sharing resources, sharing information, sharing knowledge and expertise, boosting each other up.
A rising tide lifts all boats, and all that.
Plus there’s something else I learned from another conference, Heroic Public Speaking Live, an event designed for public speakers, which I’m attending later next month.
As the host of that event likes to say, speakers get speakers work.
In other words, one of the best sources of speaking gigs for speakers is, quite literally, their good relationships with other speakers.
How does that work? Well, say you get a speaking gig at an event, and it goes great. Fabulous.
Now it’s after your speech, and the event organizer is chatting with you, and maybe they have this event once a year, and they need to mix it up, bring in new speakers each year, so they’re not going to hire you over and over again, but you did such a fantastic job, that who do you think they’re going to ask for recommendations for next year’s speaker?
Um, yeah, that’s right: you!
And who do you think you’re going to recommend?
Your speaker friends, whom you know, like, and trust will do a kickass job!
Speakers get speakers work.
Now, I don’t know that the same principle applies exactly in the Applied Improv world, where jobs are perhaps more likely to be longer-term projects, rather than one-off speaking gigs, but the principle of “givers get” always applies.
Not that you should give to get. But simply that you should always be thinking about building relationships, and how you can be helpful, not about “what’s in this for me?”
ABG not ABC
In the play and film by David Mamet, Glengarry Glen Ross, one of the characters has a tagline with the acronym ABC, which stands for “Always Be Closing.” I recently took a wonderful CreativeLive class, The Art of Networking, with a much better tagline, with the acronym ABG, which stands for “Always Be Giving.”
And for goodness sake stop thinking about what you’re going to get out of the interaction!
This is where Guidepost #2 from my Creative Sandbox Way comes in really handy: Think process, not product.
Don’t go to a conference looking to get a gig! Don’t approach a conversation looking to get something out of someone! Just be open and curious to what happens.
(A very improv attitude, that!)
If A (and you and I) were to approach each interaction with ABG and “Think process, not product” in mind, it won’t matter what the specific outcome is. We’ll all dance with whatever it is.
Guess what? That’s called improvisation. And if you can do that, you can do anything.
A’s other big concern was that he’s an academic, and he’d spent the past I don’t know how many years doing research, and immersing himself in his mindfulness training. Now here he was, out of the ivory tower, at this Applied Improv conference, trying to wrap his head around entering the market with his ideas and expertise.
How, he wondered, does one go into business without selling snake oil?
It’s a question so many of us ask ourselves, especially in creative fields. The last thing we want is to impose more snake oil on the world!
I could tell that A had great value to offer the world. I could tell that he wasn’t hocking snake oil, but my saying as much wasn’t going to convince him.
So I asked A this question:
Have you ever personally paid for a service that felt valuable, and transformative, and that you knew wasn’t snake oil?
Ah! That made him stop and think. I could see the gears turning in his head.
And sure enough, he had. At least a couple of times: for example, the improv classes he took over a span of years felt important, transformative, and valuable to him.
“Hmmm,” I said. “So that’s a data point. Clearly it’s possible to offer a service that isn’t snake oil. And someone out there is waiting to receive the transformation that you have to offer them.”
“But how do I charge money for that?” he asked.
Ah, the $60,000 question! (Or now, with inflation, perhaps that’s the $60,000,000 question!)
Here’s the thing: it’s an exchange of value.
You’re offering something of value (your service). And in return, they offer something of value back (money). That’s all that receiving payment for our services is!
Obviously there’s a lot more to pricing and charging than that — I mean, entire libraries of books have been written on the subject — but ultimately that is all that it comes down to: an exchange of value.
But Isn’t Taking Money Bad?
And a lot of us — especially creative types, and self-development types, and healers — really struggle with this, because we want to change the world. We want to make the world a better place. And there’s a story in our heads that somehow accepting money for this is bad.
But would expect your oncologist to work for free?
And if you had cancer, and your oncologist said “I have this treatment that I know will help you, but I’m afraid of putting snake oil into the world — even though I truly know it’s helpful — and, oh, by the way, I just feel uncomfortable accepting money, so instead I’m just not going to offer my services at all”…
Um, that would just be stupid!
There are people, and organizations made up of people, who are waiting for your unique brand of transformation. They’re waiting for you.
Your art, your writing, your service offering — whatever it is — it is the very thing that is going to help them in such a big way. And they are waiting for it. And they want to give you value in return for the value that you can give to them.
What are you waiting for?
This week’s something cool came out of the AIN conference!
One of the many, many amazing people I met was Cathy Salit (who I’m really, really hoping to get on the podcast — stay tuned and hold a good thought!), CEO of Performance of a Lifetime, a 2016 Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Company of human development experts who use performance and improvisation techniques to help leaders and organizations transform, grow, and develop.
And my Something Cool is Cathy’s book, Performance Breakthrough: A Radical Approach to Success at Work, which I bought on Sunday at the conference, and devoured in two days.
The core idea is that we all have an innate ability to perform, pretend, and improvise. And performing is what allows us to be who we are and who we are becoming at the same time — what Cathy refers to as The Becoming Principle™.
In Performance Breakthrough, Cathy shares ideas and techniques from theater and improvisation, and tons of stories and case studies from her 20 years in business, which you can apply to enhance your performance at work, and in life, to “become who you are not yet.”
It’s brilliant. Highly, highly recommended.
Want a creative kick start?
Check out my book!
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“It’s one part field guide, one part creative practice—and I loved it. The Creative Sandbox Way is an adventure packaged as a book.”
NYT best-selling author of The Happiness of Pursuit and The $100 Startup
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