I have two movies coming out, Chappaquiddick and The Enforcer 2. I love being able to say that—it makes me sound like I’m the box office gold male lead. Well, I do get a little screen time and a credit for my IMDb profile. But male lead? Alas, no. I’m just a featured extra, although I did get called to audition for the role of “Silver Fox” in the Amy Schumer project, I Feel Pretty. At my level in the Hollywood pecking order, I’ll take it.
Acting offers a fun respite from the day-to-day of business, a right brain exercise in an often left-brained world. In this make-believe realm (the acting realm that is, although sometimes the business realm makes me wonder which is which), there are business lessons and takeaways we can apply to our corporate lives.
Lesson One: Know Your Lines
Leonardo DiCaprio calls it Rule #1 for actors: Know Your Lines. That’s the job. The camera goes on, the curtain goes up—there’s no place to hide. If you don’t know your lines, everyone else is going to know you don’t know them too. That’s why actors rehearse intensely, and this applies to our business roles as well. Each day, review something you think you already know. Call it rehearsal for business. The more you rehearse, the better you’ll get, so when that curtain goes up, whether at a big meeting, a client presentation, or just some casual interaction with the boss, you’ll know your lines.
Lesson Two: Keep Drama Off The Stage
Tabloid headlines scream of drama on movie sets and stars throwing tantrums before storming off to their trailers. Yet for all the sets and backstages I’ve been on, I’ve never seen it. From local community theater to big Hollywood productions, everyone is invariably polite. You have never heard so many ‘pleases’ and ‘thank yous’. Be it on set or in the office, there are economic and creative benefits to treating others with respect. If you want drama, buy a ticket at the local Cineplex.
Lesson Three: Collaborate
Unfortunately, some work situations are riddled with infighting, petty jealousies, and office politics. It distracts from getting work done and results in lackluster performance, not to mention wasted time and money. Actors learn from almost day one that acting is about supporting each other. They know it is in everyone’s best interest to collaborate. Everything else gets left at the stage door. In business, a productive work environment brings collaborative teams together. They win by working to meet common goals.
Lesson Four: Credit where Credit is Due
If you’ve ever watched the Academy Awards, the winner thanks just about everyone under the sun. It’s an acknowledgment that no one does it alone. Other actors want to work with you because you’re willing to share the credit. It’s the same in the office. The simple act of recognition can do more to build morale, improve commitment, and enhance performance than even financial rewards.
Lesson Five: Follow your Instincts
These days, decisions are based increasingly on algorithms, artificial intelligence, and big data. The presumption is that our personal judgment is so inherently flawed and biased that we need something else to make objective decisions for us. In contrast, acting has no algorithms, no formula to calculate a perfect performance. Actors, drawing on highly subjective personal judgment to create a character and a performance, must follow their instincts. In business, the breakthrough idea, the creative spark, the inspired insight, comes not from following the rote or formulaic, but rather from following your instinct. No code or formula can take its place.
Lesson Six: Stay Engaged
Broadway actors have it tough. Performing sometimes as often as six times a week on stage, they have to create something fresh every time, never letting the work get routine or perfunctory. They stay engaged by finding something new in the work—a new emotion, a new reaction, a new understanding. In office work, we sometimes fall into drab routines, risking boredom and burn-out. By focusing on finding something new in the work or a new way of doing it—maybe even going to a conference or taking a class to get a new perspective—you stay engaged.
Lesson Seven: Tell a Story
Quick pop quiz—what is some of the hottest curriculum in business schools today? Data Management? Nope. Finance? Again, no. Entrepreneurial studies? Closer, but…no. The hottest business school classes teach what actors have been trained to do since actors started acting: how to tell a story. It’s why improv and stand-up comedy classes are suddenly full to the brim. Digital graphic designers are in high demand to create videos or cartoons or anything other than yet another dull PowerPoint presentation. Everyone has numbers and computers and data and ratios and statistics and formulas and equations and spreadsheets; it’s all for naught unless you can communicate what it all means. Whether acting or conducting business, you have to tell your story.
Keep these tips in mind as you head to the office. It will improve your “performance.”