What Improv Taught Me About Risk Taking

which-way-to-go-confused-exec-DOUG SUNDHEIMA few years ago I lost a bet with a friend and, against my wishes, was accompanying her to an improv workshop as payment. I say against my wishes because to me, improv is the ultimate in anxiety-producing situations. You’re performing before an audience with no preparation, trying to get a laugh. And you’re most certainly about to make a fool of yourself.

On stage that night, all my fears were realized. As the scene turned to me, I panicked and went blank. I felt my face flush. I didn’t know what to do next. Out of desperation, I blurted out some nonsense about wanting to play baseball. The comment was utterly ridiculous, because at that point we were supposedly on a flight from New York to Miami.

In true improv fashion, another actor chimed in without missing a beat, “That’s a great suggestion, Doug. Anyone can play baseball outside. But it takes real skill to play it on an airplane between the passengers and the seats. Thankfully, I have a bag of bats, balls, and gloves in the overhead bin!”

For the next two minutes, we played a full inning of imaginary baseball 35,000 feet above the Atlantic. It was very funny.

As I reflected on the experience later, I saw that my initial anxiety was born from a fear that I would somehow screw up. And yet there I was, screwing up, wanting to play baseball on an airplane, and yet the scene worked. Doing the “right” thing in that moment was much less important than merely doing something. My inane comment gave us all we needed—motion.

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Doug Sundheim

Doug Sundheim

Doug Sundheim is a consultant and executive coach with over 15 years of experience in growing businesses and helping others do the same. He works with leaders and teams of Fortune 500 companies and entrepreneurial firms to help them maximize their effectiveness. You can follow Doug on Twitter @DougSundheim and find out more about his services at www.clarityconsulting.com

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