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Shoving Each Other to the Front, a Lesson From the Cast of Saturday Night Live

I have been watching Saturday Night Live since I was old enough to program the VCR to record it. I was enjoying the Season 45 premiere this weekend and noticed something that I’d also seen on the Season 43 premiere (yes, it was that impactful that this 15 second memory lasted a full two years). 

Here’s what I saw, at the end of the show, when the musical guest and the host come out for a final “Thank you.” and a general celebration.

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What you’re looking at here, is veteran cast members, who have given up their front row visibility and have shoved the new cast members to the front so that they can be clearly picked up by the camera and are pointing excitedly at them to put as much attention on them as possible. 

What you can’t see in the still photos, is that at one point, Kate McKinnon weaves her way clear across the stage to grab new member, Luke Null, who was nearly off stage, pulling him back with her. 

Of course they did this, you know why? They’re improvisors and in improv, one of our main principles is to always be looking for opportunities to “Make each other look good.” Sometimes, this means giving up the chance to get our own laugh, or a spot in the limelight, in order to set someone else up for a laugh or give them time in the spotlight. 

In this situation, the veteran cast members are also confident in their place in the cast and in their ability, so they are not threatened by the new cast members. Instead, they take a step back, throw their full support behind their new teammates and give them a chance to shine. Oh, and they celebrate the fact that there is new talent on their team that they can pull from!

Think back to the last time you had a new person on your team. What would it look like to follow the lead of these veteran SNL actors? You’d notice your new team member shying away from important projects, not quite fully confident in their ability just yet, you’d find ways to bring them in and highlight their abilities. You’d be confident in your own position and excited about what they might be able to bring to the team. You’d be willing to take a step back at times, in order to let them lead and grow. You’d celebrate your new partners!

When we set aside our own ego and make a conscious choice to make each other look good, we all end up looking great, we take full advantage of the talent on our team and have a lot more fun in the process. 

Design Think Your Way to a Better Culture

For a second year in a row I attended the Creative Problem Solving Institute's yearly conference (CPSI). A couple of days in, it seemed that I was the only person there who did not know what “Design Thinking” was (and everyone seemed pretty excited about the concept), so I took a workshop with Paul Skaggs, a Professor of Industrial Design, so that I could join in on the conversation. 

In short, design thinking is a way of using empathy to look at a product or process through the progression of look, do, ask. Let’s use a conventional spatula as an example.

 Look: They observe the person using the product, looking specifically for ways that the user is altering the product or process, to make it fit a need that the designer didn’t originally think of. This is referred to as “adaptive behavior.” Have you ever taken your spatula and put it on a plate so that the contents of your pan or grill didn’t get on your counter? That’s adaptive behavior.

 Do: They use the product themselves, as if it’s their first time, noticing their own feelings or challenges. Is there anything that is frustrating or awkward about using this product? 

Ask: They suspend their own judgement and come from a place of pure curiosity, asking questions of the person who uses this product the most, specifically looking at how the user is feeling and what they are thinking while using it. 

If we apply this process to the spatula debacle, we end up with something like this:

Look: What are you observing about the way that people interact and work together in your organization? Are they rearranging chairs in a conference room to have more effective meetings? Are they gathering in a certain area to connect and build personal relationships? Are they creating loopholes in processes to get their work done and see the fruits of their labor? 

Do: If you’re in a leadership or management position, spend a day going through the motions with one of your people. What do you, yourself feel and observe? Are there processes or organizational norms (spoken or unspoken) that are getting in the way of people experiencing autonomy, mastery and connection on a daily basis? 

Ask: Get curious! Suspend your own judgement and simply listen for the golden nuggets that, if attended to and designed differently, could change your culture for the better. Look for non-verbal cues and don’t be afraid of silence. 

What would your kickstand spatula culture look like?