Be Present to the Good Stuff with Chris Carlson
A Conversation with Entrepreneur Chris Carlson
Chris Carlson is an entrepreneur, actor, lawyer and the founder of NarrativePros. We had the opportunity to chat with Chris about his life as an entrepreneur and the upcoming program Soft Skills Revolution that will be at the Hill Center on June 1st.
What is your business and how did you begin your entrepreneurial career?
I think the best way to describe Narrative Pros, is to think of it as a high tech health club for soft skills. Just like you can go to a gym to feel better and improve your health, we work with people to feel better about their connections with audiences and improve their skill at doing that. Like the personal trainers at a gym, we have what you could call “connection trainers”—professional communicators from theater and business who continue to make their living from connecting with audiences. Instead of treadmills that tell you your pulse, we use audio and video tools to measure your progress. Just like we all know we have to get in shape, pretty much everyone realizes that they can be more genuine, confident and present.
My career as an entrepreneur started as an extension of my work as a professional actor and an attorney. After working professionally as an actor, I went to law school to get some more control over my career (I was sick of waiting tables). At law school, I saw how poorly trained law students were in how to communicate effectively. We spent nine months learning how to write like an attorney, but only a few weeks on how to speak like one. Ever since then, I have worked to bring my acting colleagues as well as other artists together to work with business professionals to help them connect with their audiences more effectively.
What has been the largest hurdle and / or success you have experienced as an entrepreneur?
I think that one of the most significant hurdles of entrepreneurship is the periodic isolation. One of the great things about being your own boss is also one of the hardest—you’re always on the job and you’re always scrutinizing your own work. A network of like-minded people is an invaluable resource to get feedback, verify assumptions, and provide moral support.
How do you manage being an entrepreneur and what advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
I ask myself how I manage that almost every day… I guess I would have to say it’s a combination of persistence and some sort of cultivated ignorance of the downsides. The more present I can be to the good stuff—doing what I love, having more control over how and when I work—the more I am able to put up with all the other b.s. that goes with being an entrepreneur.
There are a lot more entrepreneurs out there with a lot more experience and accomplishments, but if I had to give advice it would be just that: be present to the good stuff. Hold on tightly to your passion and vision, but let go loosely of the things that don’t matter. The best way I’ve found to do that is to go out and share what I’ve found with as many people as possible. Especially other entrepreneurs. You are not alone and can stand on the shoulders of giants when you open up for advice and feedback.
You come from a diverse background of acting, Improvisation and law. Can you tell me how those worlds have informed what you do know?
I have come to see each of these diverse disciplines as united by the same thing: listening to, crafting, and retelling stories. Whether it’s an audience or a judge, a play or a client’s claim; many professions primary value can be traced back to their ability to connect with their audiences in a way that moves them to action.
Tell me why you think business professionals could benefit from skill sets that actors and improvisers uses?
Everyone can benefit from increasing their skill to connect better with others. Even though that’s something we do quite naturally with the people who are close to us, many people find that connecting at that level of effectiveness with people we are not as comfortable with is very difficult. The first hurdle to overcome is to recognize creativity, collaboration and communication as skills, not talents. Just like when you learned to ride a bike or tried to perfect your golf swing, these soft skills are skills that can be developed through deliberate practice.
Over centuries, actors have developed a pretty efficient system of developing their abilities to be creative, collaborate with others under pressure and connect with audiences. This is a mental and physical process that is open to anyone who wants to develop the same skills.
What is it about Minnesota and how has it managed to keep you here?
I am fiercely proud of Minnesota. I made a conscious choice about 10 years ago to remain here because of the people and the great quality of life here. Looking back, I may have missed out on some big opportunities by not moving to New York or L.A., but I have been happy with the trade-off. I have enjoyed a much steadier flow of opportunities that I can imagine I ever would have had elsewhere. And, as the world takes more notice of the excellent talent and people here, the larger opportunities are finding their way here as well.
You can find out more about Chris Carlson and his company at NarrativePros.com OR join us at the Hill as we host him and his team on Thursday, June 1st from 1pm to 5pm in a half day intensive training on Soft Skills Revolution. Learn the key steps to unleash your efficiency, effectiveness and maximize your input.