The Week in Review # 40: Learning to Improvise

Imagine being asked to play a game where the rules aren’t given to you upfront. The only way to win at the game is to adapt to a stream of new information. Would you want to play this game? While some people thrive on uncertainty, it paralyzes many others. The ability to improvise can dramatically improve our success in such a game. It is a life skill that will greatly benefit us regardless of whether we choose to become an entrepreneur.

Think back to the last time you were presented with a situation you didn’t know how to solve. How did you react? What were the steps you took to solve the problem at hand? Unfortunately many of us respond to such situations with erratic solutions. Constantly jumping from one to another without taking into the bigger picture.

I believe there are four steps to help become better at managing the situation above.

This first step is to understand our own response mechanisms. Through greater self awareness we help break down mental barriers that are holding us back. The goal of improvisation isn’t to come up with the correct answer. Rather it is to understand the situation and start creating an emerging solution with the data available. This is the point that our lizard brain takes over. We become paralyzed by the thought of saying or doing the wrong thing. By choosing to play it safe, we are putting ourselves at an even greater disadvantage.

Once we have better control over our emotions we can move to the next step. This requires us to put together all the information we know about the situation or problem at hand. Who the current stakeholders are? What are the desired outcomes? What resources do we currently have? The goal is to collect as much data as possible. This requires as to keep an open mind. Our lizard brain will be telling us to respond immediately. We need to learn how to quiet it and do our best to create a clear picture of the situation.

Once we have an understanding of the stake holders and environment we need to devise a plan. This is the third step in the process. The plan should be based on our current information on how we can reach our desired destination. Chances are that our initial plan will point us towards the wrong destination. This shouldn’t be a cause of concern. Our map’s purpose is to provide us the ability to take the next step forward. Without action there will be no improvisation.

This leads us to the final step in the process. We have to constantly update our map based on newly discovered information. Through iteration and constant feedback we are going to be able to course correct. The journey is not going to be easy. Many times we will want to give up when we find ourselves lost. At such moments I like to remind myself a specific quote:

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

Marcel Proust

By learning to improvise we become nimble, flexible and confident in our abilities to find a way. This will not only improve our odds as success as an entrepreneur, we will be able to live a richer and fuller life.

All Markets Are Not Created Equal Online marketplaces are the rage these days. This article provides a comprehensive overview of what it takes to succeed in this space. The article includes great advice on starting up as well. Well worth the read.

The 1% of a long-lasting career Paul Jarvis is great author and he recently started his own newsletter. His first release didn’t disappoint. The article provides straight forward and grounded advice on how to get ahead on your chosen career path.

62 Tips From Y Combinator’s Startup Instruction Manual Y-Combinator is the Harvard for startups. Having graduated companies like Dropbox and Airbnb they have proven their model. This post is an amalgamation of quotes from partners at the firm.

The Purpose-Driven Workforce Is 42 Million Strong Finding purpose behind what you do everyday is something I think about a lot. This article is based on a comprehensive report called the Workforce Purpose Index. It is filled with great insights and helps put into context this massive undergoing change.

Cockroach Mode for Startups David Cummings is a very successful entrepreneur and one who blogs very frequently. He publishes short posts regularly and I would recommend following his feed. This post talks all about the persistence needed for a startup founder to make it through the myriad of challenges.

Wishing everyone a great week ahead!