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Here's Why Entrepreneurs Should Take Comedians Seriously

by Leah Oppenheimer | Oct 24, 2018 | Fiterator |

Last week, the #Fiterator3 teams headed to New York to present to the CableLabs Board of Directors to show them what they've learned on the road to product-market fit in our industry. Averon, Blitzz, and Mutable have been with us for two months now, and we've been putting them through the wringer as they perfect their messaging, product, and offering for the cable industry.

Presenting to the Board of Directors is an important milestone of the Fiterator program, so the weeks leading up to it are intense. To alleviate the stress briefly, we invited our friend, the behavioral scientist, author, and CU Boulder professor, Dr. Peter McGraw, to the CableLabs offices to give a talk on lessons we can all learn from the masters of comedy.  As director of the Humor Research Lab and co-author of The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, we couldn't think of anyone better to give the teams a bit of a breather and a chance to laugh.

We all know that being an entrepreneur is hard. Really hard. And so is being a comedian. Both require constant creativity and innovative thinking, and both rely on pitching to a sometimes hard-to-impress audience. What can entrepreneurs learn from comedians? Here are the top lessons from Peter's presentation:

Flip it, Reverse it

Any joke that can get the audience to laugh is a good one, but a surefire way to make a statement is to challenge the status quo. Take a conventional belief and prove to the audience that it's actually completely incorrect - and if you can make them laugh at the same time, all the better.

In his talk, Peter noted that as entrepreneurs, we spend our lives trying to solve problems - but when we get stuck, sometimes we just need an entirely different perspective. His example drove the point home: when Google realized that its emails were taking too long to send, it turned the platform bug into a feature by introducing the much-welcomed "unsend" button for emails written in haste (or in regret - we've all been there).

Reversing perspective can also be used intentionally in messaging and strategy. Now one of the biggest companies on earth, Amazon initially launched as an online bookstore - and one that many people believed would fail. As we all know, it has grown to behemoth proportions, having averaged nearly $500BN in sales per day in 2017. So it came as a shock - not to mention a very strategic PR move - when the company surprised its audience by opening a brick-and-mortar store - and not just any store, but a book store.

Put it into action: As entrepreneurs, our goal is to solve problems in new ways. Peter suggests writing down a problem you are facing, and spending some time brainstorming the opposite perspective. Aim for three ways you can reverse the situation - which 'bugs' can you turn into features?

Hard Work or Hardly Working?

When was the last time you saw a day free of meetings on your calendar? (We bet you're laughing now.) When you're building your startup, your schedule is packed - and largely out of your control because you're at the mercy of your investors and your clients. As a result, your schedule fills up, leaving you with awkward blocks of free time that don't allow you to really dig in on your creative process for strategizing, pitching, and building your business.

According to Peter, comedy requires creativity, and creativity requires practice. Jerry Seinfeld, who is one of the world's most successful comedians, tracks how many days in a row he sits down to write for at least one hour without interruption. Throughout his career, he intentionally made time for himself to practice his craft every day to make sure that his writing had his full attention and that his jokes were the best they could be. One comedian Peter spoke to in his research said that the key to good comedy is "long, leisurely lunches", approaching problems in a relaxed way, without being frantic.

Put it into action: We already know that entrepreneurship is about being creative - so give yourself the time to work on your creativity, even if that means blocking off time on your calendar to do so (and we know how hard it is to do that!). Put away your email, Slack, and spreadsheets, make some coffee, and take a deep dive into the work that really makes you an entrepreneur.

At the beginning of his talk, Peter said something that tied his lessons together: always keep writing. Aside from being a useful record keeping tool, writing regularly helps us to remember the ideas that we come up with - both the good and the bad. Writing is shown to help us turn bad ideas into good ideas - something that we, as entrepreneurs, need to practice more!

As Peter showed us, being a comedian is about more than getting on stage and making people laugh - just like being an entrepreneur is about more than building a startup to unicorn status. The more we can learn to capture our creativity, make it work for us, and use it in unexpected ways, the bigger an impact we can have on the world - and ultimately, that's what we're looking for.


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