Improv Leadership

I’m standing in a circle with 12 other strangers. We’re instructed to come up with an adjective that describes us that starts with the same letter as our first name, and a body motion to go with it. A girl called herself Sweaty Stevie and used her hand to fan herself. For me, I decided to go with ‘Jolly’ Johnny and put both hands on my belly as if I just had the jolliest of laughs. We did this for everyone and repeated the entire chorus each time. At this point I finally understood the power of remembering a name by assigning some unique, crazy alliteration to that person.

That brings me to why I even signed up for this crazy experience. As a leader in an organization, I obviously have to be comfortable speaking to large audiences and it would even be better if I was actually charismatic! So, I came here in search of that after hearing about executives doing team building using comedy improv. The benefits listed include a more positive environment, more inclusive and accepting of mistakes, and just more ‘going with the flow.’ The instructors brings about these gradual changes by a series of games where mistakes receive clapping and cheers, and only positivity like ‘Yes!’ and head nods are acceptable.

In just one night, this improv class taught me something new and better than what I’ve been doing at work for the past few years. My organization has a core value called “yes, if,” which means instead of just saying ‘no’ to our customers, we need to frame our responses in “yes you can, if you do this.” This has allowed by organization to slowly turn the cultural ship towards a more customer friendly attitude. Yet, in this improv class, they taught us to say “yes, and.” Think about it — no longer is it a conditional statement to our customers for a yes, it would now be a yes and something more. To me, in the real world, this meant my mindset has to shift to be even more inclusive. That I would be right there with my customers helping them achieve our goal. That’s what “yes, and” means to me.

Finally, the night ended with a series of improv battles on stage. It required a series of quick thinking, rapid fire, off the cuff answers. And as you can see in the picture above (I’m on the far right), I’m either thinking hard for a response to avoid elimination or still stuck on my epiphany of “yes, and.”

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Empathy in Rejection

I hung up the phone and was devastated, embarrassed, sad… yet still smiling.

A couple months ago I had applied for a sweet job that would be a promotion and allow me to move to Houston, where my sister and two nephews live. You have to understand, job promotions like this do not come around often, much less one that I’m qualified for. So I put my name in the hat (which also meant writing a 16 page essay on why I’m qualified) and wait. Then two days ago I got an email asking me when would I be available for an interview — wahoo! I had always felt it I could make it to the interview round and last the automated computer screening process, then at least my fate would be in my own hands. Yesterday I quickly setup travel arrangement to Houston, to go be in person as a show of importance. And today I got a phone call from the hiring official that it was all a mistake, that I should not have gotten an interview. Ouch.

While on the phone and getting an explanation with authentic contrition clearly apparent in her delivery, I started to feel immediately awkward for her. Here she is with the very unpleasant duty of needing to inform me that my expectations, that me notifying my sister that I was a step closer to moving closer to the family, that it was just a simple mistake. Of course I felt disappointment. How could I not? But I also felt sad for the person who had to tell me this bad news. To me, the mistake had already occurred and is now in the past. In the here and now, and going forward, I didn’t see any point in making this more awkward than it has to be. So, I made sure to let her know it was absolutely ok.

The reason why they made the mistake or how it came about actually isn’t all that important. At the end of the day, there was no going back. So what’s the point? What is left to be truly gained here? No, the real goal is to make sure I keep a positive relationship with that hiring official, which in turn doesn’t ruin any shot for a future promotional opportunity. Besides it being the nice thing to do (which is the primary driver!), there’s absolutely no strategy that calls for making the hiring official feel horrible.
My final takeaway for you is to keep smiling. Despite the adversity and unfortunate luck, keep smiling. It can and will get better. Positive affirmation will force the universe to be positive for you too.

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jamm session 2017

Every year I do something I call ‘jamm week.’ Simply put, it’s a several days devoted to working my personal projects, such as artwork or some entrepreneurial business projects. I wake up just as early (or earlier) than normal and I work into the night. I’ve found that by having this concentrated time, it dramatically increases my productivity and output of results. In businesses and organizations, they’re usually called ‘offsides’ or ‘retreats.’ The trick here is to make it all about your personal goals and making huge gains on them.

This year I decided to focus on several business ideas, from making a podcast to opening a coffee shop to creating a newsletter. Below is the agenda and which ones I actually accomplished.

Here are a few rules and tips:

  • You must make a plan before you start – And I’m not talking the morning of Day 1. I’m talking about a month ahead of time as you start mentally preparing for your jamm week, start jotting down notes as they occur to you what you want to accomplish. As time gets closer, arrange all those thoughts into an actual agenda or schedule. This will keep you on track and not stagnated.
  • No interruptions! – This is an important time for you and you’ve taken the time to do this, so do it right. Limit the cell phone interruptions and social media checking. Use only your breaks to keep up with the news and emails. Absolutely no app games!
  • Tell people you’re doing this. – Your friends are awesome and they’ll check in with you to see how it’s going. That’ll keep you accountable to come through in what you said you’d do.
  • Go somewhere to jamm – Don’t just do it at home, unless you have a nice office and used to producing at home. Instead, go to a coffee shop, bookstore, or library to gain extra energy or inspiration from the new stimulus of a different environment.

“Ignoring the small stuff isn’t an option, but living in a state of continuous partial attention won’t cut it either.” – Cal Newport (Computer Science professor at Georgetown University and the author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World)

This year’s jamm session, for me, had better than anticipated side effects. Not only did I make significant headway, I enjoyed a “productivity high” for several days later that I carried into other parts of life. Great!

So, try it out for yourself, and if you, send me a note on how it went for you. Good luck!

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entire life

the inspiration for this new comic strip really came from just observing how lately life seems to be happening all around me, and so fast.  there’s been friends getting pregnant, colleagues passing away, and just people coming down with life changing events.  life just happens but because we’re living in the moment, it’s hard to grasp or even steer our own life.  i’ve been told recently my comics are getting really depressing, so that wasn’t the intent for this!  it might be late in life, but it does get better for our main character.  so, if you happen to be feeling that too, i have to believe it’s never too late to be happy.

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Johnny’s top movies of 2016!

like my friend @AkaDimiX, i enjoy the year end list of top whatevers.  the only one i care about really are the top movies, so without further a du…

  1. Arrival – great story and visuals.  i’ve seen a lot of sci-fi movies and this movie managed to give me something different.
  2. Hell or High Water – dubbed a modern western, i thought it hit all the marks of a western really well and transported me to that lifestyle for a moment in time.
  3. Rogue One – despite all the hype and an origin story i wasn’t all too thrilled about, the movie definitely delivers.
  4. The Accountant – the premise is a bit hokey but Ben Affleck gives a great performance that mixes in humor just at the right moments.
  5. Captain America: Civil War, Deadpool, Doctor Strange, Batman V. Superman – i’ll go ahead and lump all these movies together – fun and entertaining, but ultimately forgettable.
  6. Star Trek Beyond – even with my bias for all things Star Trek, this movie barely makes it on the list.  still, it was fun seeing characters get to interact despite two previous movies where they didn’t.
  7. Eddie the Eagle – it’s my feel good movie of the year!  starring my fav actor Hugh Jackman, it’s based on a true story and good for a light night in all the seriousness of the world.

biggest disappointments for me this year, and there are lots:

  1. X-Men Apocalypse
  2. Independence Day: Resurgence
  3. Sausage Party
  4. Green Room
  5. Keanu

honorable mentions, especially as rentals:

  1. Nerve
  2. Zootopia
  3. Midnight Special
  4. Jungle Book
  5. The Nice Guys

movies i haven’t seen yet that may make it on this list:

  1. Moonlight
  2. Manchester by the Sea
  3. Jackie
  4. La La Land
  5. Live By Night
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Johnny’s top movies of 2015!

for those of you that care, here’s my top picks for movies in 2015!

    1. Ex Machina – what a concept!  great acting all around plus great visuals
    2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens – JJ does it again with a solid all around movie, but he better watch out for duplicating past plots too much (i.e. Star Wars Into Darkness and Wrath of Kahn)
    3. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation – i love the MI franchise and Tom Cruise doesn’t disappoint.  i hope the addition of Ferguson in the next installment doesn’t ruin the dynamic.
    4. Mad Max: Fury Road – that guitar guy sealed the deal for me
    5. Everest – speaking to the adventurist in me, i enjoyed the grittiness and true story aspect
    6. The Martian – fun humor with a fun cast
    7. Furious 7 – the action is so ridic you have to respect that
    8. The Gift – a surprisingly dark movie that has perhaps ruined Jason Bateman for me
    9. Kingsman: The Secret Service – a breakout role for the male lead and i enjoyed all those British actors in one place
    10. Southpaw – i’m a sucker for boxing movies

biggest disappointments for me this year have been:

    1. Spectre – weak plot and action sequences that made no sense
    2. Ant-Man – despite Paul Rudd and an excellent entourage, perhaps i was expecting too much but this was way too predictable and that romance doesn’t feel organic
    3. The Avengers: Age of Ultron – i hear it’s better upon second viewing but it got too convoluted for me

good, but perhaps overhyped:

    1. Sicario

made more enjoyable because the friends i was with:

    1. Straight Outta Compton

movies i haven’t seen yet that may make it on this list:

    1. Macbeth
    2. Creed
    3. Revenant
    4. The Big Short
    5. The Walk
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new comic… that’s fill-in-the-blank!

it’s been awhile but here’s a comic strip i drew recently.  a bit rusty, but boy did it feel good to have all them drawing tools in my hands again!  it was something i did for my day job, but i’ve taken out the text so you can fill it in yourself with whatever!  enjoy!


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criticizing my own art


so, what went wrong with the left image? I didn’t see how off it was until I was done with the face, when it just looked wrong. the jaw looked off, the chin seems too narrow, and the combination of the eyebrows and eyes made him looks Asian (which I did not intend this time!).

so, I did what always takes courage for me and erased it. when I drew it again, using a photo reference of myself, I realized I needed more “stress” in the jaw. I mean, if he’s opening his mouth wide, there should be more stretch in the skin and therefore show more cheek bones (I think). in any case, the one of the right looks much better. plus, I wanted to make it not just photo-real but more bounce, like a cartoon.

my last comment, do yourself a favor and look up the artist Eric Canete. he’s fantastic. and when he draws, he’ll draw and redraw the image until he gets it right. like a master sculptor bringing the image out of the paper. he gives me inspiration to not give up. thanks.

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