Jimmy Teaching Improv

How to Make Great Decisions Every Day

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Some of the worst decisions I have made in my life I made by myself. When I was in my early 30s, Saturday Night Live was going to fly me to New York to audition for the show. I made the “brilliant” decision all by myself to not go because I thought I really didn’t do characters or sketch.

Then there was the time when a group I was improvising with in the ’90s got hired to write for a new network late night talk show. Without consulting anyone, I turned it down because I thought I wasn’t a “writer.”

I have had paying gigs fall out of the sky into my lap, really great opportunities, and instead of saying yes, I said no, because I thought I knew what was best for me. Clearly, I did not. When I am left to my own devices, my decision-making process can be dangerous and reckless and can lead to a lot of regret.

When I teach corporate improv workshops, I am often hired to come in and focus on team building. Companies usually want their teams to work together more, share ideas more and be less territorial. Improv is a very effective tool in this, but only after people realize that their territorial behavior comes from fear — fear of asking for help, fear of being wrong, fear of looking stupid, fear of being shot down. Fear, fear, fear, fear.

When you practice improv, your brain gets wired differently. We are always asking for helping when we are improvising. Even though we don’t explicitly say it, we know we cannot do improv without someone else, and we learn that if we trust other people, we always end up with better results.

So how can we do the same at work, in our careers and in life so we can make better decisions?

Whether you learn to rely on a group of friends or people at work or your fellow improvisers, you have to create your own culture where you not only feel ok asking for help, but it’s actually encouraged. You need to trust that these folks can make better decisions for you than you can.

And the relationship needs to go both ways. It’s just as important to ask for help from others as it is to have others asking help from you. Giving and receiving — where have you heard that before?

The real secret in all of this is to trust that your support network has your best interest in mind. Your group of “trusted advisors” could be just three people, though I encourage you to keep expanding it.

Today, I rely heavily on my support network before I make any decision that I’m not sure about. The bigger the decision, the more input I get. There are times when I have made multiple phone calls to multiple people to help me make a decision, and they all agree with my original hunch. In those cases, it always helps with my personal confidence, and I usually get the extra bonus of having peace and serenity around the decision.

Other times, I will ask people for their advice and feedback about something, and they will tell me something completely opposite of what I would do, and I have to trust that they know better than I do. Still other times, I will get conflicting opinions about what the right answer is. In that case, I just keep asking more people until I get a majority opinion.

My own personal experience has shown that when I reach out and have people help me with my decision-making, things always turn out better than I could have hoped and my career and life get bigger. Kind of like improvising.

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