Why should school kids get all the fun of a Spring Break?!
Perhaps it’s a bit idealistic or foolish to think that companies should take breaks. And I do mean an entire company. Work wouldn’t get done or it would pile up. Customers would flip a lid or go elsewhere. The production rat race never ceases. In fact, it propels itself, if a company wishes to grow. And that is the “end all, be all” for corporations, right?
Granted, I’m not a nine to fiver. So maybe I have it all wrong. I’m one of those who works around the clock on different projects. But I have been a nine to fiver. And I know that even those stalwarts of business that punch the clock to earn dividends for someone else live and breathe their work. A company asks for it; some demand it.
Cutting to the point, obviously most companies cannot stop working for a week. It isn’t realistic. My point is this: Breaks are not counter-productive, especially orchestrated ones for the entire crew.
Just as people need sleep, I make the argument that companies do too. It helps with staff bonding. It helps with renewed energy. And it helps with objectivity.
Objectivity is key. When most of us wake up in the morning, we are refreshed and free to start again from the activities of yesterday. We process. We let go. We see a bigger picture.
That bigger picture is what fuels companies. Just look at the news publishing industry. Those companies that are able to be objective about what they provide and how they are fed will survive. However, many have collapsed in the last decade. They needed to sleep on things. Instead, they probably doubled down on work… CRASH!
This blog may be a rehash of an older blog that I wrote about Blockbuster:
But this is a much quicker read. And this time around, I’m focusing on the power of the “break” to truly see this wonderful world that is Springing into action!
I wrote a business article, recently, for Central High School in Tulsa. I thought I’d share it with you…
When I hear the word “business” now, I think of how I spend my time. That’s different from how I used to think of the word.
I used to think of that word as something to avoid at all costs, something that was for worker bees, adults, slaves to the system, people that didn’t know how to have fun. Because of that, I went into theatre. To avoid business.
I’ll save you the long, boring tale about how my choices led me to where I am today. I’ll just say that the irony of my teaching business is not lost on me. So let me just share a few lessons that I learned along the way.
First, everything you do is business. You can’t avoid it. This life is work. Work is business. Life is business.
You even go to the bathroom to “take care of some business”. If you get too close to me, I might accuse you of getting too “up in my business”. If you make some questionable choice, a friend might say, “that’s your business” and look the other way.
Why I didn’t put two and two together much earlier in life, I have no idea. I am perhaps not the brightest bulb in the box. Oh well, move on.
So with “business” defined as busy-ness, and we’re all busy all the time (even when we’re listening to music instead of doing schoolwork… ahem… that’s your business), we need to understand that successful business is spending our time in a way that pays our way. In other words, successful business is activity that keeps us alive and should allow us some measure of happiness.
Second, now this was a big one for me, successful business starts by understanding the difference between doing something for yourself and doing something for someone else.
Here’s how you measure the difference. And measuring is key, by the way. Someone else will pay you to do anything that they don’t want to do or can’t do for themselves. Or a combination of both, that’s it. Everything else is personal or for yourself.
No one pays you to get dressed in the morning. They will pay you to fill out their tax forms for them or fix their toilet. Or how about this? No one pays you to play basketball. They will pay you, however, if you’re really good at it, to sell tickets, commercials, merchandise, etc..
Third, don’t chase money.
Money is a measurement tool. That’s all that it is. Chase your dreams, your bliss. Chase those things in life that make you happy. Money can be used to buy those things. But money can also be wasted.
Also, many people live very happy lives while not making a whole lot of money. How? They know what makes them happy and they do that. And, quite often, those things in life that make us happy don’t cost anything. They just require the right perspective.
“What?! I will not do that! My art is my integrity!” That’s what I said for many years, while working a day job to support that statement. So I could go work on my art at night.
Again, not the sharpest axe in the shed, I didn’t realize that I was making a compromise all along. It worked for me though. I wanted to do theater that was personal, not necessarily for money.
Compromise is a part of life. It just is. Everything we do has a bit of compromise to it. And life is business. But compromise, by itself, isn’t business. It’s just a necessary part of it. And yes, a part of compromise is sacrifice. But don’t get hung up on that too much. You’ll lose sight of what’s truly important.
I would add a fifth lesson: be relentless. But that’s really just an antidote to compromise. Follow your bliss, your dream. Don’t give up. It will be difficult. You will be tested. Failure is good, as it teaches you how to be better. Chin up. Stay active. Keep your cool. Be thankful.
So, in conclusion, successful business is all about a balance of give and take. Don’t worry about being successful in business. It will happen, if you just work for it. And, perhaps, maybe, if you can see that you already are.
I’m thinking… I’m thinking… I’m planning on writing a blog here. I have the idea of writing about how our thoughts turn into actions. The least of these actions are words. These words symbolize our thoughts. They are the most intangible, raw actions created by our thoughts. They are also the most telling, for those that can decipher their meaning. So there we have it. I’ve written my first paragraph. Shall we analyze it?
First, it’s very stream-of-consciousness. It is searching for a point to make, as opposed to simply making a point. The entire paragraph, some 80 words, could be summarized into one short sentence: Words are the first action created by our thoughts.
When we analyze our thoughts, it helps to write them down. Words can hurt definitely. But they are also easily forgiven. And they should be the starting point for anyone that is concerned in good quality action. That said, I offer this miraculous truth: You are not your thoughts!
You can change how you think. Are you more reactive to your life than proactive? Are you constantly weighing what happens in your life with thoughts of how some external source is affecting you? Or do you more think about how you affect what happens in your life? This is a simple change, if you want it. The advantages to thinking in terms of how you affect your situation are huge.
Let’s admit something about this crazy life. We don’t get much control. It seems to be a running thread throughout life. As babies, we are completely dependant on others. We can’t even control our own bodies. As adults, we are afforded a modicum of control. And, actually, we can discover that we control quite a bit, as adults. Of course, the older we get, the more dependant we become, once again.
So, yes, we are put in a reactive state. We are then told to be proactive. It can seem like defying the odds. And, well, it is. That’s why it’s so important!
If you’re stressed out, that’s an indicator that you’re possibly living in a reactive thought process. You may be extremely productive even. But you’re going to break down. You know it too. The opposite, of course, is that you’re so passive that you aren’t meeting your basic needs. Granted, most people that fall into that category aren’t taking the time to read this blog. By reading this, you are being proactive. I hope I’m making it worth your time. Here’s a picture of a puppy…
Proactive! When life throws you lemons, make lemonade! …Sure but you need some sugar to make that …and why is life throwing lemons at you?! Thinking proactively is hard. So congratulate your self when you can. Think positively. Just know that your thoughts do turn into actions. And the most inspirational actions come from a strong foundation of proactive thinking. Live long and prosper!
We’ve officially moved our headquarters to Tulsa, OK! It was quite an ordeal. The elephants were restless and refused to get on the trucks. The IT department wouldn’t help pack; something on reddit.com was too important. And don’t ever hire the company, Two Mimes And A Truck. They just pretended to move boxes the whole time.
We had a great run in Stillwater. But we knew that we could really energize our service, if we moved to a larger market. For a while, we didn’t know if we would move to Tulsa or Oklahoma City. But Tulsa got us for one reason alone…
“Tulsa” has four less syllables than “Oklahoma City”. Time is money.
It’s Friday, August 31st. The heat of Summer is leaving. Labor Day weekend is beginning. There’s a full moon tonight, a blue moon even! Life is good. Cheers.
Here in Oklahoma, there isn’t a huge audience for improvised theatre, music, or dance. If I say that I perform improv comedy, I usually have to follow that with, “Have you seen the show ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’” Then, after that, I either get a, “Yeahh, I remember that. That was funny.” Or I get, “Ohh… OK.”
The next part of the conversation is even more difficult, if I am discussing that I teach improv skills to professionals and companies. As a company, we have constantly been searching for terms that communicate effectively what we do. So perhaps this blog is me, trying to refine this explanation, or trying to merely explain. The first is an internal process, the latter is an external one. By publishing this, I suppose it’s both.
At the core of our every action is a mystery. This mystery shrouds life. This mystery gives science and art and everything else, frankly, in life their power. This mystery is what feeds us. It is also what destroys us. When we examine how we act in this life, we can only say positively what we are doing in the present. Our past gets hazy. Our future is unseen. Yet, we are able to forge a path.
This path is called strategy perhaps or good reaction or good choices. But the path is never ideal. It’s always a compromise. I’ll stay awake at night dreaming of a nice Nogginjog training building, where people can come and play and learn. My dreams are big. I’ve always dreamt big. I’ve also learned, to my chagrin, that when the dream ends, you have to shift focus to putting one foot in front of the other.
So… this is how comedy improv relates to professional development and company training. It is all rooted in our thoughts and actions. The theatre is the home for experiential learning. It is nothing but experiential learning. In other words, it is all just an elaborate experiment, an exploration. Business utilizes this already. Granted, most of it comes in the form of on-the-job training. The company just assumes some lost productivity during the process.
Here’s my argument. Improv skills training will become a staple of 21st Century professional training. Why? Because all actions(including business ones) begin and end with improvisation:
Alpha Improvisation –> Strategy –> Omega Improvisation
Alpha Improv is that first step into the unknown. It is the reaching out, the open mind, the discovery of the strategy.
Strategy is that bit of information that we have formed from our Alpha Improv. This can be rote learning, a sensation, a thought. This piece of the “action formula” is where a majority of training is focused. This is simply because it is the easiest and most universal. Here’s a picture of a banana tree. They make bananas. Any questions? If training is left to “Strategy” alone, its success hinges on a) quality of information and b) quality of the participant.
Omega Improv is the execution of the strategy. It is actually a further reaching out to the mystery that surrounds all actions, life. And, of course, the whole process never ends and folds in and out on itself, just as a complicated quantum theory should.
Improv training is already seen, to some degrees, in primary school classrooms, corporations, and everywhere else. Nogginjog’s argument is, simply, that improv training can be utilized more fully. It can provide more value, by recognizing and cementing good strategy.
…I’m starting to think that I’m not making my case any easier…
Jason Watts, CEO
This blog is a direct response to last week’s blog that claimed that we are not our behavior. The truth is that, when it comes to how we affect others, we are in fact our behavior.
We do have the ability to change our behavior. And from the subjective perspective, we are not our actions. But when you affect someone else, which is always, you are simply a behavior, an action, an attitude… to them.
This is the crazy conundrum of this world. First, on the personal level, we have desires or fears that drive our behavior. We have wisdom to harness them. Second, on the sociological level, we have fellow human beings that share our fears, desires, and wisdom. And we have others that don’t. If you really want to get abstract, you can apply this same logic to the rest of the animal kingdom and plants and minerals too. How am I like a tree? Hmmmm…
If I seek advice, or even if I don’t, I will get different responses to the same query. Should we be completely honest in our dealings? Or not? Should we live cautiously or with abandon? Should we put others’ needs before our own? Or should we be self serving? Depending on who you talk to, you’ll get different, even polar opposite answers to those questions.
Most people agree on some major issues, like murder or theft. But, even still, I had to preface that with “most”. In philosophy, the experts can’t agree. They’re all over the map on beliefs, famous for their differences.
What’s a guy or gal to do? Follow your heart? Follow your head? My perspective is that the old saying, “You live by the knife, you die by the knife”, has some merit. But it gets pretty deep. Meaning that we create habits and perspectives for ourselves that work for us to some degree. But those same choices that we make create an opposite. And that opposite reveals itself at some point.
I train people in “leadership development”. What does that even mean really? Frankly, that’s a whole other blog topic. But it is intrinsically linked to behavior. Without writing a whole other blog on leadership, I can say this about it. You are your behavior… to me. Whatever you choose to do, I see… and judge for myself whether that choice suits my choices and me. That’s the bottom line. Leadership development is simply about making better choices.
Not everyone is book smart, street smart, business savvy or an artistic genius. But, I would go out on a limb, and say that everyone is dumbfounded or confused, at least, periodically. My advice, whether you asked for it or not, is to cherish those moments. And to trust those moments as an experience that is closer to truth or objectivity than all the other stuff that fills our heads and hearts. I think this is where wisdom begins and ends.
I have that song, “We Are Young” by Fun, in my head today. Actually I kind of have the song, “We Are Not Young”, in my head. That’s what put the song there anyway. It’s a parody…
The crazy thing is that I keep switching into this other song, “The Youth Of The Nation” by P.O.D., that has a chant in it, “We are, we are…”. Go figure. The brain works in weird ways. It links things together without our full cooperation. On top of that, we aren’t allowed to know everything. We are only given this small perspective with which to make profound choices that affect our lives(and others’).
It just isn’t fair. We aren’t perfect. Both of these songs say something about being young. They have different takes on the subject. But they both seem to rally behind being young. They both talk of mistakes. Both songs are a call for companionship.
In a way, we are always young, when it comes to the themes of these songs. We are all just a bit deluded and innocent, even if we think otherwise, perhaps especially if we think otherwise. And at the end of the day, we all want or need companionship.
So, young or old, everybody makes mistakes and wants to feel connected. Our brains are cross-wired. We want to be perfect; but we aren’t allowed. We make decisions based on limited perceptions. We form these decisions into patterns or habits. Yet, we constantly have to adapt to a new set of rules, new perceptions. We want attention; yet want to be left alone. We are crazy. The world is crazy. Nothing makes sense. Cats and dogs living together. If I were a cartoon, I’d have stars revolving around my head.
As an adult, though, I have to be sensible. I can’t focus on that insanity. Kids can. The young can write songs about it. They can afford to take a philosophy class or wax poetic about the pangs of love. The grown-ups have to work, right? We have to face the facts; put our nose to the grindstone. We can’t afford the luxury of trial and error, of a “what if” attitude.
Grown-ups, old people cannot mess up. We are more forgiving of youth’s mistakes. Youth is defined by the potential. At some point, learning isn’t the priority. As an adult, potential gives way to performance. Potential implies options or variables. Performance implies a decision, a fixed course of action (career choice, anyone?).
When we say that we want to lose weight, as an example, we are stating that we want to change our previous behavior. Our previous behavior is not serving us now. We want something else. By saying something like that, we are announcing a desire. This desire creates potential. But actually losing the weight is where performance comes in.
The world requires us, young or old, to make changes to our behavior. We must adapt. It just seems that the older we get, the more obstacles we face in this existence. Habits, responsibilities, energy, and a million other things get in our way of changing our behavior. Performance is work. Behavior change is work. Let’s face it.
But I think the difference between someone who says something and doesn’t follow through and someone else who does is the perspective of youth, of potential. If we see ourselves as set in stone or without energy or, the saddest perspective, not worth the work, we are old. We’re, perhaps not consciously, looking forward to death.
…”Looking forward”, that is where it starts. That’s the first action, the first behavior. That is our perspective, however limited. That is what sees or doesn’t see potential. We are not our behavior. I’m not exactly sure what we are. But to say that we are our perspective might be a little closer to the truth.
A segue to next week’s blog…
Life is activity. Behavior change is activity. Just as most of us adults don’t eat our boogers or throw tantrums anymore, we can change our behavior. And we should, if needed. But how do we know if we need to change our behavior? That’s a whole other topic for another day.
Enjoy your May Day!
In business, as in life, art can sometimes be considered a four-letter word. Honestly, it should be… sometimes. Art comes from our reaction to chaos. It is what we create to deal with the unknown. Art is action, creation. It is what any and all of us do on a daily basis. Art is conscious behavior. Art may be pretty. But it very well may not.
Nogginjog’s booth at this year’s OKHR conference, in Tulsa this week, will pay homage to Banksy. Banksy is a famous “street artist”. He is known for his cultural satire. Street Art is a bit controversial. On one hand, it’s poignant. On the other, it’s a bit rebellious. We, too, look to shake up the establishment a little. From our perspective, corporate training and culture could use it.
Most of corporate training is built on the dissemination of information. This usually comes in the form of speakers, books, and more recently, the Internet. However, in the end, how much of that information is applied? That’s the million-dollar question.
We can’t argue against the need for information. That isn’t our argument. Our argument is that if a company’s training hinges solely on disseminating information, it is time and money poorly spent. Many companies do not invest in experiential training. That is typically done on the job or before someone is hired in the first place. This is forgivable logic. Why? Because a lot of “experiential training” doesn’t work or it doesn’t provide a reasonable return on the investment.
Experiential training addresses the system in which information is used. It complements information. This applies to “hard” skills just as much to “soft” skills. With learning how to use new database software, the students receive the step-by-step instructions, or information. Then, depending on the teaching method, the students are either hand-held through practice or left on their own to practice.
“Soft” skills training works the same way. In fact, I see no difference between “hard” and “soft” skills. They’re all just skills to learn. “Soft” skills are harder to train because they deal with personal or human behavior. And humans are notoriously complicated.
There are many street artists out there. Banksy succeeds in getting our attention. Why? He applies his skill or passion to his audience. He, first of all, has skill and passion, which are difficult to separate from each other. Second, Banksy knows his audience. His audience is the populace, which allows for only a specific type of message to be received. Banksy would not be “pop” famous, if his satire dealt with the issues that only lawyers understood.
In company training, the same formula applies. Nogginjog’s background is the theater. More specifically, it is comedic improvisation games. Theater is experiential training. Gaming is experiential training. We know this. We have got you covered on the whole experiential training thing. Furthermore, and directly to the point for you (our audience), we know how to apply it to your goals or challenges.
Most companies consider training to be an expense, not an opportunity. We, humbly, offer our expert services as an opportunity, as a means to profit.
With our plug out of the way, we look forward to seeing some familiar faces and getting to know some new ones this week at the Oklahoma Human Resources Association’s 2012 Conference.
We hope to channel Banksy a little, as a play on the conference’s theme, “The Art of HR”. We hope to raise the question, “How much of your time spent listening to speakers changes what you do?” And we offer our own response…
“Training isn’t passive. It’s active!”
Part 5: Nogginjog Debriefing/New Marketing Announced
(This series of blogs was originally posted in August of 2011, before the unfortunate crash of our website. …So we’re reposting it.)
The character of Nogginjog, like Blockbuster’s, shared some truths of the real brands. But the purpose of telling the story was to give a moral. Making the character of Nogginjog a little cocky worked for that end. Now is Nogginjog cocky in real life? Uhh, no. We’re better than that. Thank you.
Do we sell struts, walks with attitude? I think so. We sell a way to do what you already do a little better, with more fun. Are we a “brash young start-up”? Yea, pretty much. Do we get depressed and eat ice cream? It’s not a company policy.
The correct mission statement was Blockbuster’s lesson to learn, while Nogginjog’s lesson was to appreciate the contribution of others. These two issues are difficult to learn and practice. And practice is key. Here’s the problem. We have selective focus, which serves us mostly. However, watch this fun video on change blindness:
When we are focused on ourselves or our tasks, we don’t see obvious changes happening around us. It happens to me all the time. I’m not sure that it’s preventable, frankly. But if we value the contributions of others, meaning that, if we maintain a culture of diverse opinions around us, we can prevent change blindness to a larger degree.
In the story, Blockbuster suffered from change blindness, either in the form of being too focused on its brick and mortar identity or by not paying attention to the industry. Nogginjog suffered from change blindness by not hearing Anon LLC’s sarcastic response to his exclamation of being a King. That and, if he had appreciated Anon LLC’s companionship, he may have taken the extra step to befriend him, following his Twitter feed. Either way, Nogginjog may have prevented the mocking of his peers and gained a customer.
So the moral to “The Story of Blockbuster and Nogginjog” isn’t to have a better mission statement or to not be cocky. The moral is to appreciate the diverse world around you. By doing that, your mission statement and your routine will serve you better.
We, at Nogginjog, opened our doors in May of this year, just 4 months ago. We came from a solid background of theatrical improvisation. Our first foot forward was an unsure step. Contrary to the character in the story, we have actually been somewhat hesitant or unsure of ourselves, honestly.
We didn’t exactly know how to communicate the value of what we offer to a market that is not familiar with it. But we are learning. And appreciation is fundamental to that end. And, if we do this right, we will always be learning about our market, because our market is always changing.
So, with all of this in mind, Nogginjog is changing its marketing plan. In the next couple of months, slowly but surely, Nogginjog will be introducing a more targeted approach to what we do. This new approach is based on much appreciated consultation and some botched sales attempts(being honest here).
First, we are eliminating our entertainment services. This is not because we can’t provide them. This is because we spread ourselves too thin. We created a confusing menu of choices.
Second, focusing solely on training, we are making workshop choices specific to the challenges that exist in companies and those that we can address with expertise.
Third, we have changed our pricing and service delivery to provide more variety and function.
We are adding videos, pictures, testimonials, and resources to our website and marketing materials.
Nogginjog was formed from decades of experience in this wonderful, entertaining world of “comedy improv” and “applied improv”. The foundation for what we provide is solid.
The translation of its value to the business world is what needed to change. And we are responding to that. We will constantly be responding to that. That is our challenge. And we appreciate it.
And, yes, we appreciate you. “Aaah, isn’t that sweet. Nogginjog appreciates me. Well, of course they do. I’m all that and a bag of chips.”, said in my best Jim Gaffigan-undertoned voice.
Jason Watts, CEO
Part 4: Lessons From Blockbuster Debriefing
(This series of blogs was originally posted in August of 2011, before the unfortunate crash of our website. …So we’re reposting it.)
Storytelling is very powerful. It is a fundamental tool that we all use, probably more than a few times a day.
Storytelling, for entertainment alone, is a mutli-billion dollar industry. If you consider its use in news, marketing and sales, storytelling could arguably be the most important service in the world. It is integral to everything we do.
By personifying the businesses in this “Story of Blockbuster and Nogginjog”, I was able to evoke some emotional connection with them. The most common emotional connection that marketing utilizes is sex. This is valid, although way overused. But that’s because it works. In fact, all storytelling takes us to an extreme, our desire for life or our fear of death. And sex is a major desire, along with comfort and prestige, the tenets of a seemingly good life.
Focusing on the character, or brand, of Blockbuster, I made him a teacher to Nogginjog. He was friendly and worked hard. These attributes made him likeable. He was also, at first, deluded to his situation. This too is a likeable character trait. Typically, we don’t care for perfection. It’s boring. We reserve that for God or superheroes. We don’t relate to it ourselves.
So then, why did Blockbuster, the business, go bankrupt? Were they deluded, as my story suggests? Or were they the inevitable losers in the next wave of technology, because they were the brick and mortar to this industry that went digital?
Technically, I don’t know the answers. I can only speculate. My estimation is that their mission became convoluted. A mission for a business should be very simple. More importantly, it should be tied to passion. Granted, acting from passion is not always healthy. But it is what provides our motivation. The rest is strategy and work.
A company’s mission should be hot, strong, universal and easily applicable. The strategy and work should be cold, soft, specific and easily replaceable. Don’t get me wrong. This doesn’t mean that the mission statement should be so broad that it can apply to any company, however, like “We sell stuff.” I say that, although that could easily be Wal-Mart or Amazon’s mission statement.
Anyway, Blockbuster’s mission statement should have been something as simple as, “We provide movie rentals.” If they kept their simple mission close to their hearts, they would have known that they needed to change their strategy.
I have to imagine that many Blockbuster employees and executives knew that the internet was going to change the industry. Given the benefit of doubt, maybe they didn’t brainstorm the idea of doing mail order rentals. But, I bet they knew about it, the second it was revealed.
However, Blockbuster had grown a large body at this point, when Netflix came onto the scene. Meaning they had many material assets and employees with families to consider.
Aside from the obvious issue of having revenue tied to the mechanism of earning it, I imagine that Blockbuster’s mission had grown to include the protection of its employees. This is honorable. But, unfortunately, it isn’t correct. A mission cannot be one of self-preservation. It cannot include security. Job security and assets come from strategy and work ethic.
If Blockbuster had made plans to embrace the new digital landscape, they would obviously have had some financial and employee losses. But, with good strategy, they could have prevented the massive layoffs that their bankruptcy caused and still be leaders of their industry.
Hindsight is 20/20, naturally. I am not saying that I would have been able to fix their problems. I am merely analyzing it and using it to communicate a possible fix for present companies. Yes, I am saying that a company can most likely prevent this.
Blockbuster is not dead. Thankfully. I do root for companies that I like. Their future is unknown. But they seem to be doing all right. I do predict that the gas station movie vending machine is a temporary industry. Soon, it will all be digital. How soon? I don’t know. But Blockbuster is on the web too. They are digital.
So, I offer a heartfelt “Cheers!” to Blockbuster. I wish them the best.
Next week, Part 5: Lessons For Nogginjog Debriefing