Tim Washer. Keynote Speaker + Event Emcee

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Improv Rule #37: There’s Order in Chaos

I first met Seth Godin when Ann Handley and I presented him with the prestigious “Marketing Lifetime Achievement Award,” which was widely considered the most important moment in marketing history following the invention of the Four Ps. I can’t find a photo of it, but here’s the previous year’s winner, David Meerman Scott, immediately before he received the coveted trophy, a 1987 Hoover vacuum cleaner.

For the last two months, I’ve been simply giddy about speaking at Digital Summit Denver right before Seth takes the stage. I’ve been in awe of him ever since I read his stance on nonsense:

we embrace ridiculous as the sign that maybe, just maybe, we’re being generous, daring, creative and silly. You know, remarkable.


Ridiculous isn’t safe. If you do something ridiculous and you fail, people get to say, “you idiot, of course you failed, what you were doing was ridiculous.” Which is precisely why it’s so rare. Not because we are unable to imagine being ridiculous, but because we’re afraid to be.

Seth Godin

I reached out to my dear friend Carlos Hidalgo in Colorado Springs to see if by chance he would be in Denver today for client meetings or maybe to pick up his wife at the airport returning from Uganda. “Yes” to both, so we scheduled dinner tonight.

I also scheduled a South Platte River video shoot during lunch today with my ASP buddy Kara Carpenter, who builds Cottonwood Creek footbridges in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. And yes, she planned to wear this outfit once we confirmed the Cheesecake Factory’s policy on wielding hatchets.

Around 9 PM last night, what was on track to be the best Tuesday of the fiscal quarter went off the rails. Childcare arrangements fell through — the joys of divorced life — and I was tempted to fall back into that “could really one more trainwreck occur in my life?” hole of depression.

I sent out a flurry of texts to see if I could line up a sitter for my kids while trying to maintain the illusion that I was calm about it.

Last year my 11-year-old asked me what would happen if I was going to travel and the sitter canceled. I felt the anxiety underneath his question. I assured him I would just cancel my trip, stay home with him, and we’d shoot a funny video with a stuffed sloth, go out to eat, and play some Xbox. And suddenly I was facing the possibility that I might actually have to cancel a speaking gig.

I’ve been an emotional mess the last week, so it was a horrible time to be facing this immense discouragement of losing the opportunity to share the stage with Seth Godin. But somehow, through no strength of my own, I made a simple decision. I’d go out for a walk, pray about all of this, and if I didn’t have a sitter confirmed with absolute certainty by 9:45 PM, I’d cancel the trip to the Rockies.

There’s Order in Chaos

The principle in long-form improv, “There’s order in chaos,” allows for the ensemble to have a sense of peace that surpasses understanding. Even when the troupe is in the ninth scene of The Harold and can’t possibly see how this mess of characters and storylines will connect to create something beautiful, they know to simply get out of their head, relax, and trust that it will. Because it always does.

The principle likely dates back to circa 55 A.D. While the Apostle Paul performed at a few open-mics in Antioch, the bible doesn’t say anything about him studying improv. But “Order in Chaos” feels awfully similar to Romans 8:28.

The Apostle Paul stifles hecklers

On my walk, I was comforted with this wonderful sense of peace about staying home with my kids. So, when I returned, checked my replies and learned I didn’t have the childcare coverage that I needed, it was easy to take the next steps.

But peace can be quickly disrupted, and it typically happens when talking to an airline representative. When the Delta Airlines rep asked the reason for the flight cancellation, my voice cracked under the weight of my powerlessness in the situation, and I had to stop talking. Vanessa waited through the silence, then gently stepped in. “I know it’s hard to talk about something so personal to a complete stranger.” Her grace and empathy was the rope I needed to start climbing out again. She helped me cancel my reservation without any scars.

I texted Carlos and asked if we could make a minor tweak to dinner plans. Instead of breaking bread together, would he step in to cover my speaking spot? No problem.

I’ll reschedule lunch and a hike with Molly Hatchet, and hopefully, get to visit with my marketing hero Seth another time. Indeed, all things have worked together for good, except I got crushed playing Madden.