The Art of Juggling

Improvisation or ‘Improv’ was one of the most important classes that I ever took. It’s profoundly impacted how I relate to people and new situations. Pete Smith, Professor of Theatre Arts at Sewanee, told us on day one that we would have to learn to juggle. To be honest, I’m still not sure of the connection between acting and juggling. I do, however, recognize a different, more applicable connection: juggling translates almost directly to how you should run a successful business.

Learn how to toss one ball

In order to juggle, you have to learn how to toss one ball. Somewhat counter-intuitive, I always tried to work three balls immediately. But correctly and repetitively tossing that one ball, over and over, was the first trick. Straight up, eye level height, catch. Rinse and repeat. Switch to left hand.

Translation — We often try to get too fancy and miss the fundamentals. Find the core of the action and perfect.

Watch the balls, not your hands

I would get so caught up in catching that I wasn’t looking where I was going… much less at each ball. Think about it. If you are trying to stand and juggle and if you don’t watch where you are going, something bad is going to happen. I had to learn to be aware of my surroundings — where the balls were going — so that I could catch them. Eventually, I could look past the balls and actually walk around.

Translation — Don’t get too caught up in the day to day. Looking ahead matters.

Know your limits

I have yet to master tossing more than three objects at a time. My cousin, George Strain, could get up to five or six. Me? Three and only three. If I try to juggle more than three, I always drop them all. I can’t keep up.

Translation — As a startup founder, you are constantly juggling: investors, new clients, new technology, new employees. That’s not including your spouse, husband, son, daughter, parents, etc. Know what you can handle and prioritize.

I see many founders fail because they cannot focus or burn out after not leaving time for what really matters in life. They try to juggle too much at one time: too many balls that inevitably fall to the ground. What I’ve learned is that founding a company requires that you ‘put some balls on the floor and just let them be.’ It’s far better to wait to tackle a project when you can focus than try to throw everything into the air at once. Or even better, wait until someone else can do it for you. I promise an experienced clown will put on a better show than you will.

Sometimes, it’s all you can do — solve the one issue in front of you while everything else sits on the bench. That’s ok. Better to successfully juggle one ball than none.

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Originally posted in the Silicon Bayou News, May 6th , 2013

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