Last week at the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce Annual Banquet, former UI president David Skorton was asked how his love of jazz has influenced him. “You don’t know what’s going to happen but you have to improvise to find your way through it – like in the current economy. We don’t know how it’s going to end but we have to try something.”
As a trained theatrical improviser myself (long story for another post) I can tell you that I have always felt that improvisational skills strangely translate to the business world. Being on stage without a script or sheet music to follow brings terror but also a certain calm if handled correctly. The secret, as Dr Skorton described, is that you have to jump in and keep an open mind. On stage the golden rule is to say ‘yes’ to others’ ideas as it always keeps the story moving forward.
Now more than ever it seems that folks are being called on to improvise. In our world of careful analysis and review, many are shell-shocked because the playbook has been chucked out the window. Even the experts are flummoxed (see current debate over stimulus plan). What we need is action. Management guru Tom Peters is fond of saying that we need a “bias toward action.” His “Ready – Fire – Aim!” philosophy asks us to throw something up on the wall and see what sticks. If it doesn’t work, we know that much and can try something else. FYI – Tom didn’t say this in response to the current economy. He said it 16 years ago.
Someone else with words of wisdom in dealing with a struggling economy was Franklin Delano Rooselvelt, who famously said: “It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”
Finally, we should all heed the advice of Southwest Airlines founder Herb Kelleher: “We have a strategic plan. It’s called doing things.” Amen, Herb. We can and will get through this. But we cannot be paralyzed by it. Above all, we must remember to try something.
Photo credits – foreverdigital (Skorton), Flanders DC (Peters), Public Domain (FDR), JC Howes (Kelleher)