Paddle Two Rivers

[continued from yesterday’s post – October 16, 2013 – of no title]

After reading my post about the similarity in actor auditions and entrepreneur pitches, Step Onto The Field, Skip sent me several questions and reflections. One of my favorite questions from his batch concerned this section of the post:

An exciting viable idea in the hands of a pretender is a useless thing – just as brilliant plays are routinely slaughtered in the hands of fakers.

Skip asked me to clarify this statement relative to two rivers of thought we’d previously paddled. The first river was the notion that a brilliant play is different in every production despite the sameness of the script. How can a single script be interpreted in such vastly different ways? Is it the actor-as-pretender that makes the play useless? Or, is it the second river of leadership, the direction that can dull the brilliant? Skip reminded me of a phrase I like to use: save-your-ass-theatre. It’s a phenomenon that happens when the leadership is weak so all the actors (members of a team) resort to saving their own ass instead of bringing their best game for the team.

Plays are a literary form performed in an arena called a “stage.” A play is like the playbook of a football team. It maps the ideal action but must be executed by the players in an ever-changing context. Actors that pretend to execute the action will kill a play just as fast an NFL player that pretends to play. The pretending eliminates the need to watch. The absence of anything real is as boring and lethal as what is now happening in the public schools. Separating content and method (the equivalent of pretending to learn instead of engaging the unknown) is mind numbing.

Entrepreneurs are great a numbing investors minds because they have confused reading the playbook with executing the play.

The written play is poetry, often a piece of art by itself. It transforms when activated and the variables of activation are endless. Different actors, different cultures, different audiences, different budgets, different stages, different eras, different points of view,…; no play is ever performed the exact same way night to night because the audience is different night to night. Plays are different decade to decade and society to society. It is like the Buddhist concept that you can never step into the same river twice.

Entrepreneurs often confuse their big idea with the presentation of their big idea. The two are as different as a play as literary poetry and as a produced piece of theatre.

As I wrote above, save-your-ass-theatre happens when leadership is weak. The hallmark of weak leadership is the investment in being expert. Great leaders don’t orient according to what they “know.” They orient toward what they don’t know. They can never be expert because they are not trumpeting their past experiences but are engaging with the mysteries of the moment. Great directors of plays, like great leaders in organizations, facilitate the gifts of their team toward a common intention. Great leaders serve the story, the intention, the ideal, the creation, the business – something bigger than themselves. That’s why experts make lousy leaders: experts by definition serve only themselves. Experts, by definition, need others to be beneath them.

Skip and I have watched accelerator cohorts sadly devolve into isolated islands lost in pitch mania. The partners in the accelerators (experts all) look high and low for an explanation for the lack of clarity but rarely have the capacity to look at their leadership. Cohort members know, like actors know, that there will be an opening night, a moment when they will step in front of an audience and need to be seen. If they have had strong guidance, they will show up as members of a powerful team in service to a big idea, ready to step into the great unknown (also known as potential). If they have had experts all along, they will have become pretenders just like their leaders, invested in looking good and eager to tell you what they already know.

[ be continued]

For a humorous look at the wonderful world of innovation and new ventures, check out my new comic strip Fl!p and the gang at Fl!p Comics.

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