What Do You Do Neil?

Often I am asked, ‘what exactly do you do?’ It’s not easy to give an answer.

After all, where human beings are concerned, neat definitions don’t work. Putting people into boxes is the antithesis of what I believe in; it is far too formal, restrictive and depersonalised. Why would I want to do that with myself?

Loosely speaking, I help people and organisations, from large corporations and small businesses through to leaders struggling with the ‘loneliness of command’, to change and expand their perceptions, and improve internal and external communication in the process.

Make no mistake, this is uncomfortable territory.

As organisations large and small develop, so do layers of process, unnecessary rules, ‘political’ sensitivities and stifling hierarchy. The intuitive spark and ‘difference’ which made a person or brand special is extinguished under a blanket of conformity; often corroding the excitement of change, progress, creativity and innovation.

So my reply to the question above is, ‘what could I do to help YOU and your business?’ The answers come in different colours and hues, but the common ground is about giving clarity and simplicity. It comes down to improving, instead of merely managing, the way businesses connect with their customers and, crucially, their people.

My career hasn’t been spent in the corporate towers of London or the technological frontiers of Silicon Valley; it has been forged instead in the world of media and theatre (mostly improv but also script-writing, acting and directing) – creating products that are unique and different.

From co-founding the world famous improvisation group The Comedy Store Players with Mike Myers – and appearing on the likes of Have I Got News For You, Whose Line Is It Anyway, Austin Powers and QI – through to sharing the stage with Eddie Izzard, Dawn French and Eric Sykes, it has been a journey that has highlighted the importance of mentality, attitude, branding and networking. And let’s not forget strict budgets and tight deadlines.

Working with the ‘best of the best’ in comedy has also given me a very different perspective on communication. I came to realise that this uniquely intense, visceral and high-risk environment (when you stand or fall on what you say and how you say it) hones skills that can be used to powerful effect in the business landscape.

I have worked for over a decade with leaders of big and small businesses, management consultants and academics and coaches across the globe and the similarities between the ‘two worlds’ are striking.

If you look at improvisational comedy as a business, the audience is your customer, demanding new product from a trusted brand. As soon as you lose sight of that, you ‘lose the room’. They won’t come back for more. Teamwork onstage is vital. It’s about how you communicate both as a team AND with your customer. Collaboration is critical.

When you get it right, the magic is tangible. Business is no different; combining as an organisation to delight customers often in ways they didn’t expect.

Think communication. Think collaboration. Think agility… and the ability to think quickly and adapt to rapidly changing business environments. Think engagement with your people and customers. Think creativity… and forging something unique in an uncertain and undefined environment.

Think innovation; in products, in service, in engagement. It’s probably happening already but often the leadership haven’t noticed. Or are stifling it.

Actually, rarely is anything that is ‘innovated’, either in the boardroom or on the stage, actually brand new. It’s just that the ‘dots are arranged differently’. But tweaks and nudges can have devastating impact. The improv mindset starts with what is actually there – and uses it to positive effect.

Agility is the new currency in business, and it can be taught.

It’s all about creating the right mindset and knowing what the rules of engagement are. Standing in front of hundreds of people and getting them to ‘buy into’ your message on stage is no different.

It also helps that I can make people laugh – at themselves and the unhelpful stuff that people in organisations find themselves doing. Humour gives us a common ground and a starting point from which to start transforming organisations, no matter what size they are or where they are based. Because once we start communicating properly no problem is too big to solve.

Ten times out of ten the answer lies within.

I just help find it.

So in answer to the question at the beginning of this ramble, that’s what I do. And I love doing it.

(And Mullarkey is my real name.)