3 Business Lessons from my Life as an Internet Sensation

John Sweeney is the innovation behavioralist changing the face of business and author of the Innovative Mindset: 5 ways to accelerate breakthroughs. But you may be more familiar with Jiggly Boy - John's invention and larger than life character who is the embodiment of pure innovation in practice, going viral to delight over 150 million times!

It’s been almost one year since “I went viral.”

Yes, I am Jiggly Boy. The video of me dancing shirtless at a Minnesota Timberwolves NBA basketball game has racked up more than 150 million views all over the world, and countless mentions in the media.

Over the last two decades, as owner of the Brave New Workshop, the longest running satirical comedy theater, and in my role leading Brave New Workshop Creative Outreach, our corporate training arm, I’ve taught hundreds of companies improvisation-based behaviors designed to encourage a culture of innovation.

Jiggly Boy was part of the creative work we do for one of our clients, the Minnesota Timberwolves. The idea of Jiggly Boy was a direct result of our innovation process and the work that followed was inspired and directed by our behavior-based mindset of discovery. The success of the Jiggly Boy phenomenon has given us many insights. Here are three of the most important lessons I’ve learned along the way:

Business lesson 1: Don’t be afraid to jump in.

I first developed the Jiggly Boy character in 2003 as a way to help our client engage their customers and generate real excitement at the game. Our plan was to create a character that was so excited about the game and team that he took off his shirt and danced in the stands, only to be promptly ejected by “security guards” who were actually Brave New Workshop actors. The video of the scene went as viral as it could at the time, replayed on major media outlets such as ESPN and The Today Show.

Fast-forward to February 2015, when the Timberwolves asked me to reprise the popular character to welcome NBA superstar Kevin Garnett back to the team. They played the 2003 video on the Jumbotron, and then showed me in the stands looking uncomfortable, until the growing applause finally coaxed me from my seat. And then I burst into my Jiggly Boy routine, giving it everything I had, tearing off my shirt to reveal “Welcome Back, KG” on my chest. Once again, the plan worked. The stadium went nuts. If you’ve seen the video, you know that one of the reasons it worked was because I jumped in and committed to what I was doing in a huge way.

In business, we’re often worried about what will happen after we start, so we stay in the safe information-collection mode as long as possible. But if you’re going to innovate, you’ve got to begin. That could mean anything from stepping outside of your comfort zone to partnering on a project with someone you don’t know very well. Jump in, and things will start to happen.

Business lesson 2: Be prepared to pivot and maximize what change can bring.

While the comedic routine was well planned, what we didn’t know is that Garnett – having just come out of a timeout – would notice me, crack up on the court and acknowledge me with his million-watt smile. That’s where it exploded. Garnett and I connected, and the crowd ate it up, fueling the “scene” with something completely unexpected. I shifted what I was doing to take advantage of the gift that I was given, the arrival of a “scene-mate,” Kevin Garnett.

Reframing -- looking at the situation from a different angle and finding another path toward the solution -- is an excellent way to add value to any process. We use reframing all the time when there are last-minute changes, challenges or unforeseen obstacles and we need to find another way of looking at the situation to achieve our goals. But it can also be used to innovate. Reframing can inspire us to explore the potential of new ideas, flavors or versions of what we’re currently doing, and create something that’s even better. In comedy, and in business, if we view change as fuel, opportunity awaits.

Business lesson 3: Root your innovation in an attitude of service

The return of Jiggly Boy accomplished its initial objective of engaging basketball audiences – boy, did it. Just days after I danced, I enlisted some partners to help turn my 15 minutes of fame into an effort to change kids’ lives by literally giving them new smiles. We all donated time and resources to create a website – JigglyBoy.com – to leverage the momentum and raise money for Smile Network International, a nonprofit doing miraculous work worldwide on missions that provide cleft palate and lip surgery for children. On the site, you can view the video, create a customized meme, shop for Jiggly Boy merchandise and most importantly, donate directly to Smile Network International.

Remember that your job isn’t done when the project ends. You can – and should – continue to build on what you’ve done by finding new and innovative ways to keep the momentum going. One way to do this is to simply ask, “who else can we help” or “how else can we positively affect our stakeholders.”

By putting these lessons into play, this outlandish character has delivered value to an important client, brought laughter to hundreds of millions of people, and funded more than one hundred life-changing surgeries for children across the globe.

Take a lesson from Jiggly Boy: By jumping in, embracing change and serving others, you’ll be able to foster a mindset of discovery more easily and effectively than ever before, and spark memorable – and maybe even viral – innovation. Oh, and if you want to kick start your practice by bringing smiles to kids’ faces, jigglyboy.com is worth your click.

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3 Business Lessons from my Life as an Internet Sensation

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