Jerry West's Blog
The Power of Improvising
I get it; you like the control. You like things “just so.” Who doesn’t? I’m here to tell you that everything doesn’t have to be perfect all of the time. You can just improvise your way through a difficult situation with a client, business partner, employee, or even your significant other.
And it can turn out to be completely awesome.
Let me give you a couple of examples. The first is from film. Why film? Because film is fucking awesome and speaking of fucking awesome, this is a scene from Leon: The Professional. It was Natalie Portman’s first film, and she was just 11 years old. She rocked the screen and stole the movie. If you haven’t seen this film, you suck. Watch it now. Seriously, just push your work aside and watch. It is a true game changer.
The power of this scene is Gary Oldman’s “Bring me everyone” line, is when he screams, “EVERYONE!!” This was a complete improvisation by Oldman meant to get the director to laugh. The director didn’t laugh; he loved it. Look at his eyes. Sheer genius with crazy lit up.
What about in business? Where is it ever appropriate to just improvise? This happened early in my career. I was married and living in Utah at the time. I had just moved from California and had a California cell phone where I would field calls for my SEO business. Understand that I was basically a one-man operation at the time even though I had a full-time designer, reasearcher and programmer on staff. I was the only SEO.
Why would I have a California cell phone?
Because what large Bay Area firm is going to hire a company from Utah? Yeah, none. This helped me close business. San Francisco firms love to call 415 or 408 numbers. The flight was just 90 minutes direct, so any “pitch” I had to make, I could be there and back the same day if I needed to. It was foolproof.
Or so I thought.
I had a pitch for a BIG company in San Francisco. I had it all planned. Early flight, get the rental car, check into the hotel, relax for a few hours, change into my suit, drive to the company and make the pitch. However, it didn’t exactly work that way. The flight was majorly delayed and by the time I landed, I calculated I would have just enough time to drive to the company for my pitch.
And I’m wearing my Van Halen t-shirt and jeans.
Traffic is so bad on the 101 that now I realize I am going to be late. I had thoughts of changing into my suit in the car in the parking garage, but now there was no chance of that. I get there, my slot was for 30 minutes, and I had a full 20-minute presentation with awesome slides all ready to go.
I get there, and there is another firm doing their pitch, and I am told I missed my slot and it was given to someone else. The person was rude and condescending and told me to find my way out.
Instead of whining and making excuses, I took five $100 bills from my pocket (a trick my grandfather shared with me years ago), placed them on the table. “Sir, I fucked up. Entirely my fault. Your firm needs me, and I need you. Give me just five minutes, and if I suck, you can keep this $500.” Just then, the current presenter finished. “Okay, you’re up right now. Five minutes and if you don’t wow me, the $500 is mine.”
Understand that EVERYONE is in suits and the office overlooked downtown San Francisco, glass windows from floor to ceiling, the view was killer. I walked up to the front like I owned the place. I looked like the pizza delivery guy. I’m pretty sure I made a joke about that when I introduced myself. I didn’t apologize for being late, and I left the presentation in my briefcase. It was time to improvise.
“I have no idea what the other presenters have shared with you today, but if they said they have access to the keywords that are driving revenue in your market, they are lying to you to get your contract. No list exists. Well, that is not true. The list does exist, and YOU possess that list, not them. So whether or not you choose to hire me, I am going to tell you in five minutes how you can win in your market, and it isn’t that hard. Oh, and I’ll also tell you where the list is so you can tell those other firms to go fuck themselves.”
Everyone in the room was now paying attention to me. Why? It just so happened that nearly every company said exactly that, only they had this “magic list” of keywords the company was not taking advantage of. I had nothing to lose, and it played perfectly. My balls could be heard clanking clear in Napa Valley. I was irreverent and unprofessional, but I had complete command of the room.
I then went into probably my most epic pitch of my career and starting writing on their massive white board like a mad scientist. I involved not only the employees in the room but also those who were up next to pitch their ideas to chime in with details to back MY pitch. It was a moment of improv I could probably not duplicate the next day. I was just “on.”
When I was finished, I walked straight to the back of the room to the snarky gentleman and the $500 I had laid out in front of him. I stood over him and said as I swept the cash back in my pocket, “Call down to accounting, tell them to cut a check for (and I disclosed my retainer) and I believe you won’t be needing to hear any more pitches today.”
He was smiling in amazement and only said, “No, we will not need to hear from anyone else. Welcome aboard.”
And I left with the nice sized check in my hand.
“BRING ME EVERYONE!!!!” indeed.
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