End Scene

Do scenes end? Some are quick and dirty, but sometimes they can be dragged out to the point where everyone, including the audience, knows it’s time for the actor to walk away. This is important on stage and in real life: it is okay to leave when the scene is over.  

 

All scenes are essentially the same when broken down: someone wants something from the other person/people.  A mother wants her child to clean their room and do their homework; a salesperson wants the shopper to make a purchase; a comedian wants the audience to laugh at their joke.

If someone else enters your scene, it’s okay to acknowledge their entrance and then leave without forcing any type of agenda. And just as it’s okay to leave, it’s okay to come back (as long as you have permission to). It is true for everything in life.

 

My father used to tell me, “Always leave something to be desired.”

Perfect example: John Belushi’s SNL skit “The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave.”

An Improvised Life

span style=”font-weight: 400;”>The first time I walked into a drop-in improv class, my life was forever changed.  I learned the fundamentals of improv, and more importantly how to live in the moment. After reflecting on my class experience, I realized that I’ve been improvising my entire life.  I’d never realized it, but the more I thought about it, I realized that we all are improvising our way through life in one way or another, on a regular basis.

 

When I tell people about my passion for improv, they almost always say that it sounds really difficult and stressful, and that they would be much too scared to try it. If that isn’t their response, it’s to say that improv is all about being funny. If only comedy was that easy.  

 

I began speaking the language of humor when I was very young. It was my defense mechanism for the horrors of mental illness my family was forced to endure. When I improvise, it is very real to me.  The truth can be very funny.

 

I remember exiting my dad’s hospital room after watching him die, his spirit gone. Tubes coming out, cold and lifeless. A Long Island County police officer approached me on the way to the pay phone. I had finally stopped shaking and was composing myself, getting ready to call my sister at 3 a.m. to tell her our father was dead. She was on a business trip in the Midwest.

 

The officer kept repeating that my father’s body had to stay in the hospital until they could arrange for an autopsy. He needed to make sure I understood.

 

I knew that it was standard operating procedure, and I wanted to know why he passed anyway.  He was 65 years old and healthy. But I was sick of hearing it, and I instinctively responded with, “It’s ok! You can have him!  I don’t want him any more. What do you think? I’m going to put him in the passenger seat and go home?”

 

The officer didn’t approach me again.

 

We all have control over our behavior, actions, words.  But so many choices to make can be daunting. Obvious choices are always the best ones, as long as they’re positive.  My choice was to make light of it, but with bit of a “Yes and…” attitude, to make it perfectly clear that I understood.  Some people associate improvisation with that phrase, “Yes and…”, and that scene was a glimpse of this concept before I even knew it existed.

Have Fun Communicating and Avoid Close-Ended Questions

“Please state the answer in the form of a question.” That’s the world of Jeopardy we all know and love, and you’ll be in jeopardy if you ask lots of closed ended questions with clients. You can discover much more by using techniques borrowed from the Socratic selling method.  Instead of asking, who, what, when where or why, you can ask them to tell you the story, to tell you more. Everyone loves a good story, and the chance to tell their own to someone that is truly listening is rare. Close-ended questions tend to delay action, stop motion and put pressure on the scene partner to respond with facts. In business, they can cause a project to get mired in the details or delayed. Close-ended questions prevent positive change.

 

Regardless of what the story is, the key is to listen to understand, not to respond. Listen to the language of your body; allow yourself to lean in when something piques your interest.  Their story is as unique as a snowflake and the storyteller is just as fragile while telling it. Your body language can naturally encourage the storyteller to elaborate.

 

We only get so many sentences in a conversation or a scene for it to either end or keep things going.  Not all close-ended questions are bad; sometimes they are critical, but only if it is necessary to the reason you are there or genuine interest.  Later you can explain your product or service solutions through your understanding of these specifics and putting yourself within the context of the solution.  Help them out, give them something to work with and ask for more information. Appreciate the time they are taking with you profusely. They may not acknowledge your respect directly, but you’ll know be able to tell if they’re still intently listening.  Hopefully they’ll have the time to tell you more and take a walk through the factory, the shop or the neighborhood. I’ll bet you both will take something positive away from the time spent, paving the way towards a stronger relationship.

Justify

You are a consultant. The CEO also happens to be the chief salesperson and the head of operations.  The company has grown but is actually hampered by this because they do not delegate. They come to you to tackle a problem that would be easily resolved if they were to analyze the way they do things.

 

They are not thinking about what they’re doing now, what they have done so far, and what they want to do. That’s your job. They just want to see results.

 

Have you ever been on autopilot driving and missed your exit, or took the same route you always do when you were trying to go somewhere else?  You’re not present; you’re going through the motions. This is their experience. In this scene, identify the owner and the consultant. Sounds like a no-brainer, but it does require some reflection to get the job done. Your role as consultant is to guide them towards their vision of success with your knowledge, contacts and experience.  You know the owner’s process wastes resources. Things need to change, or the business will suffer as a whole.

 

What can you do?  You can justify the current situation.  Acknowledge that the old way does work, but it won’t forever. Allow room for a fresh perspective. Outline hypothetical scenarios that incorporate how the old way worked, and continue to play out the scene, using the three principles as the scene unfolds itself.   More often than not, the business-oriented scenes go quickly to a logical and amicable conclusion filled with new, different ideas to work towards the goal. The business’s interpersonal relationships can look forward to exploring other aspects, having honored the past.

Respecting and Honoring the Physical and Verbal Reality of the Scene

You’ve just gone into a meeting and no one is paying attention, they’re fiddling with their smartphones, jostling papers, thinking about the next cup of coffee or meal or bathroom break.  Most are dreading being there at that moment. Note the environment. Is it warm, cold? Are the seats comfortable? How much time is left until lunch? What did these people do the night before and what do they have ahead of them?  

 

Are you present?

 

The scene looks like this: sales are down, collections are slow and the purpose of this meeting is to get everyone on the same page.  Ask yourself the following: What is their perspective? How do they view the problems at hand? Do they recognize the magnitude of the situation? Do they respect and honor the physical and verbal reality of the scene?  Do you?

 

If you cannot answer those questions, or don’t think they are important to ask, then YOU are not respecting the physical and verbal reality of a scene, and will not be taken seriously.

 

Now you’re a consultant, or an employee, who needs to address a problem in the company that the CEO does not recognize or acknowledge.  What’s their physical and verbal reality? How do they see and describe the situation? You know from experience that the way they’re doing things doesn’t work, but telling them that they’re doing it all wrong will alienate the client, end scene.  This ultimately makes them feel like you don’t understand them. Honor and justify their physical and verbal reality. Only then can you begin suggesting alterations and accommodations. Then you can congratulate them on their accomplishments thus far with the way things have been running.

 

Validating their reality, incorporating their need to keep items, addressing the fear of letting go and continuing the scene in a positive fashion creates forward motion.  If they think everything is rosy now and you are unable shake that, they are never going to embrace your potential solution or respect your judgment. Their reality is different than yours and you better honor it, or you’ll be out.

The Three Principles: Make Positive and Active Choices

Elaine May put three “principles” of improv together and my friend and mentor Scotty Watson embraced them and expanded on them, teaching them to his students (myself included).   In any scene, you can strive to do all three, but it is difficult if not impossible to accomplish. However, if you find yourself not knowing what to do in any given interaction, perhaps with a significant other, family member or friend, try to employ one of the principles. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at what happens next.

 

In improv, you’re typically given a setting, word, or some other abstract inspiration to begin the interaction with. Ideally your mind is a clean slate, ready to accept all of the wonders of your imagination.  

 

So imagine this. You’ve just arrived in the office of your hottest prospect, and you’ve prepared a fantastic PowerPoint presentation.  But the prospect is running late, had a bad morning, and just wants to go out for coffee. Now what?

 

You improvise.

 

Start by making positive and active choices.  If you were to tell the prospect that you were prepared to do something completely different, and that they’d be better off seeing what you have, you’ve just ended the scene.  Your prospect may allow you to continue, but they are likely not engaged or mentally present.

 

Now let’s say you said, “Yes, a cup of coffee sounds great! I didn’t get a chance to have breakfast anyway.” Or maybe you make an active choice, and suggest a place to go that happens to have very good coffee.  Now you’ve just positioned yourself as resourceful, empathetic, and adaptable. But in reality, all you did was listen.

 

I’ve spent the better part of my life with people from large and small companies, including investment bankers, lawyers, doctors, engineers, construction workers and educators.  The common thread of their success in every instance is listening to understand, not merely to respond. It’s about communicating and relating your experiences to what the other person is talking about.

The Lens of Communication

The ability to communicate effectively, to “connect” naturally with your customers, suppliers, management team, and co-workers, is essential for any organization to succeed. After all, people like to do business with people they can trust.  

 

But how do you gain trust?  

 

How do you know if you’re really “connecting” as well as you could?

 

Are sales stagnant? Could employee morale be higher? Are customers happy with your firm? Do they recommend you to their friends?

 

The basic principles of improvisation—where the ability to communicate and instantly “connect” with others is crucial—can be applied to a business environment, and a home environment.  When I met this concept, it was life-changing for me. In fact, it still is.

 

Shakespeare wrote that all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women are but players.  I’ve heard this several times throughout my life and have always dismissed it, until I started improvising. Then it finally made sense.  

 

Every interaction is a sketch, a one-act play that can turn into whatever it wants to: a saga, drama, monologue, dramedy, tragedy or comedy. Your world at that time in that moment determines the scene.  

 

Are you present when you are talking to someone?  Are you thinking of the next thing you want to tell them, or the next thing you’re going to do when you’re done talking to them?  When you are getting ready for the day, are you thinking about what you’re doing at that moment, or is your mind wandering to who you have to call later, your big presentation at work, the fight with your girlfriend.  Lost in all of these thoughts, you might be missing out on a lot that’s right in front of your nose.

 

I was fortunate enough to participate in one of David Razowski’s workshops a few years ago, where I learned this concept.  From then on, I make a concerted effort to feel my feelings the moment I feel them. It’s fun to do, and it’s even more fun to think about.  

 

George Carlin said life is what happens while you’re making other plans. I’m not saying to stop making plans; I’m saying you should be there when you make them.  Who are you today? What part are you playing? Are you the protagonist? The catalyst? The comic relief? What story will you tell about today when it is done?

 

This is your life, your existence, your chance to do whatever you want, for whatever reason you want. There is no audience. Everyone else is learning from you and your actions.  What assumptions are they making about you in the first few seconds? What role are you playing right now, at this moment? Are you the parent, student, teacher, doctor, nurse, caregiver?

 

What part do you want to play?  Have you memorized your lines?

Every Day On This Side of the Ground is a Good Day

Time flattens the playing field for all, no matter how rich, poor, short, tall, et cetera, et cetera…  We all have to deal with the reality that none of us knows how much time we really have. So, make the best of it!!  That’s what they say. Whoever “they” are. But this time, I think they’re onto something. My dad passed from a sudden heart attack at age 65, when he was getting ready to retire and enjoy life, the “good stuff” he used to say.  

 

He never got to that good stuff.

 

Back in 2001, my mom retired from three administrative positions at the age of 71 to deal with the horror of brain disease.  Needless to say, that wasn’t her plan. I watched her lose the ability to speak within six months and cared for her the next 10, never knowing what was going on in her mind. My oldest sister who I look after and have since I was 12, is disabled from depression, along with a host of other medical issues. I have been exposed to more psychotherapy in my life than anyone I’ve met who is not in the physical care or mental health profession.  

 

Why am I sharing this stuff?!!?  No one wants to hear it, much less talk about it, but everyone deals with mental health from both sides on their own in silence, much like I did. Although there were tons of groups out there to help, I didn’t have the time or energy to seek it. Whether you are suffering from a mental illness or the caregiver to someone you’ve watched deteriorate over something out of their control, you are valid.

 

These experiences shaped my thinking and made me who I am today.  I was a very curious boy, raised in the Roman Catholic religion and would constantly ask myself and those around me, “What’s the purpose to this?”

 

Everything and everyone should have a purpose, no? A lot of this world doesn’t make sense, but I think it should.

 

Most everything is not black and white, cut and dry, left or right.  Ignorance is truly bliss if life can be boiled down to black and white.  Yet I often see many people doing it or thinking this way. Is it just me, or do you seek answers too? Does everything have to make sense, or is it just me?

It’s Me

Well, this is it. The world according to me. Of course, you have no idea who I am, but, spoiler alert: you will if you choose to keep reading.  

 

Now’s your chance, because when you look at the world the way I do, you can’t unsee it.   Right off the bat – yup, life is about choices. It’ll only take a few minutes to drink in and I promise it won’t hurt. Make my day.

 

Hello again!  My name is Isaac Rodriguez, and I am a New York-based reformed banker, outsourced executive, public speaker, actor, musician, management, marketing and finance consultant, model, voice-over artist and magician.  I’m also a caregiver and have been since I was a boy.

 

In my spare time I like to stand on my head and spit out hundred dollar bills.  Ok, you got me. I really don’t have any spare time.

 

I’m a man who has and wears many hats and I love to learn.  In my professional banking career, I helped tons of privately-held businesses attack financial and other issues that privately owned companies have. I’ve been exposed to many different types of people, their problems, goals and ways of life. Throughout my experiences and interactions, I’ve found myself asking the same question over and over: “Is it me…?”  

 

No really, is it?  

 

And that question leads to so many more questions.  One of the first things I tell clients is that I don’t have the answers, they do. I just have lots of questions that can help them see solutions:

 

What’s the purpose?  Why are we doing what we do every day? Are a lot of expectations unrealistic? Do we try to take on too much at once? Are we being too hard on ourselves or not hard enough? Have we settled for less more often than not? Are we being made empty promises on a daily basis? Are we looking for unicorn solutions and falling prey to the new shiny object, or immediate gratification? Can you really lose weight fast, get rich quick and build a healthy, loving, mutually satisfying relationship overnight?  Do that many people fall for this? Is there another word for thesaurus?

 

I know some of the answers, and most of them can be dismissed with, “it depends”, but I still ask these questions and more all the time. I would love to know your thoughts, because in my opinion, almost none of this is actually possible.  Is it me, or do I really need to act now, while supplies last?

 

I created this blog to share my ideas, my view of the world. I am going to respectfully talk about life, business, expectations, everyday observations, mental health issues, who I am, what I do, and why I think it all matters, or, dare I say, should.  But that would be in a perfect world, and we are all beautifully imperfect in our own special ways, so that leaves me to write about it on the Internet.

 

I see potential in everyone and get great joy from helping people realize it.  We are so much more adaptive and capable than we give ourselves credit for, but many of us lose ourselves on the journey.  Doesn’t it make more sense to take your time along the way and enjoy the scenery, rather than rushing to an often self-inflicted destination to see what is happening right here and right now?   None of us have a crystal ball and can predict the future.

 

Every day is a journey, and only you know the roads.  There is no time like the present to begin. Or continue one you started before, or any other way you want to see your life’s work.  Know that there is just no time like the present, and there is nothing better than being present, mindful and truly in the moment. That is what it feels to be alive, your heart pumping blood through your veins, your lungs taking in the air.

 

If this resonates with you, fantastic!!  Follow me, leave a note or send me an email.  But only if you’re not afraid to question yourself and hold yourself accountable for the answers.  I haven’t found a lot of us out there.

 

Let’s get through the day-to-day stuff together and have some fun.  

Onward!

 

Isaac