Yay, We Made A Mistake!!

Embracing Discomfort

Yesterday I was part of the East Side Institute’s http://www.eastsideinstitute.org Winter Institute: Getting Out of Our Comfort Zones (Together) led by Cathy Salit, CEO of Performance of A Lifetime http://www.performanceofalifetime.com and Christine LaCerva, Director of The Social Therapy Group centers http://www.socialtherapygroup.com.

Cathy led us in a fun game where we had to use a different name for ourselves (our middle name or nickname or a made-up super hero name).  We formed circles of 10-11 people around the room and had to quickly tried to learn everyone’s name.  Then each person  pointed to another in the circle and said their name.  If someone hesitated or said the wrong name they threw their arms up and said, “We made a mistake!” – then the others in the group responded with throwing their arms up and adding, “We did!” and then we all applauded and cheered and then the person who made the mistake moved to another circle.

The discussion/debrief about this game was quite rich.  This was a new experience, to  find ourselves in a situation in which we said “We made a mistake!” when someone in our group made a mistake.  The attendees shared many responses to making mistakes, to others making mistakes and what that looks like in many contexts, business being one of the more difficult environments for making mistakes and embracing the social activity of mistake-making (vs the blame game).

LaCerva was encouraging workshop attendees to get out of our comfort zones by embracing discomfort, embarrassment and the embarrassment of others, and our weirdness in the face of being outside of our comfort zone.  The activity of embracing the mistakes we make and others make as our mistakes is weird, uncomfortable and embarrassing.  LaCerva reminded us that in our culture we are “addicted to thinking of ourselves”.  She suggested that we, “go beyond the tyranny of the normal.” It turns out, as  people shared, that it is freeing and less constraining emotionally to allow ourselves to have our relationality, we are social beings; we cannot do much of anything without others and that includes making mistakes.  

My colleague Lois Holzman is writing a book called The Overweight Brain.  She posts the book, chapter-by-chapter, for all to read on her website: http://loisholzman.org/books/latest-installment/ 

In Chapter 2, which Lois just posted, she introduces people to Lev Vygotsky, a “revolutionary scientist” and early Soviet psychologist.  Towards the end of the chapter Lois quotes Vygotsky: 

Somehow our society has formed a one-sided view of the human personality, and for some reason everyone understood giftedness and talent only as it applied to the intellect. But it is possible not only to be talented in one’s thoughts but also to be talented in one’s feelings as well. The emotional part of the personality has no less value than the other sides, and it also should be the object and concern of education, as well as intellect and will. Love can reach the same level of talent and even genius, as the discovery of differential calculus.

In thinking about “we made a mistake” and our difficulties with embracing our failures (large and small), this notion that we could also be talented in our feelings as well as our intellect, makes it easier to radically accept our mistakes as being human.  Sadly our culture devalues our emotions and doesn’t allow us the room to embrace our feelings of embarrassment, etc. when we make mistakes. Instead the norm is to have to find someone to blame.

I learned and experienced many things in this workshop.  Perhaps the most important was that certain mistakes, often the larger, more challenging/upsetting mistakes that we make happen because we’ve grown.  We put ourselves in more challenging positions and therefore we make bigger mistakes.  We spend so much time berating ourselves for our mistakes, or blaming ourselves or others, that we totally miss that because we’ve grown and developed so the stakes are higher.  That turns mistake-making on its head!

Or, as Lois puts it:

We’re always making something new out of what exists. We transform the very circumstances that we’re in. We engage in becoming.

Granted, it might be hard to throw your hands in the air and cheer, “We made a mistake!” at the office but the next time you or a colleague makes a mistake, try a new performance and see what it’s like to not have to blame anyone and thereby engage in becoming.  It might just make your overweight brain a little lighter!

The Best Managers are Performing Ahead of Themselves

Lately I’ve been observing how people approach the role of manager.  Given my training as an actress and improviser, I often think of roles in theatrical terms.  Sometimes people get “cast” as a manager but they haven’t played this role before, nor have they had any training (rehearsal) for the demands of developing and managing a team.

My training in the social therapeutic method introduced me to Lev Vygotsky, an early Soviet psychologist who greatly influenced the field of human development.  Vygotsky talked about performing “a head taller” than we are – I love this image.  For those of us who find ourselves having to manage others, we often have to do things that seem impossible, given our limitations.  Managing people requires great emotional intelligence, honesty and impeccable listening skills.

Recently I’ve read a couple of wonderful pieces about managing people that appeared in the Harvard Business Review – I love these titles and encourage you to read what these authors have to say:

If You’re Not Helping People Develop, You’re Not Management Material http://bit.ly/1iqtoue

Employees Who Feel Love Perform Better http://bit.ly/1ePYqu4  

These articles, wonderful as they are, don’t say much about the “how” of developing into a great manager, although they give some steps to take, which I wholeheartedly support.  What I’m most interested in is the performance required to allow oneself to give a team the support they need to develop, which is one way of understanding what is meant by “love” in this context.  In speaking to people about their experiences with managers, they often describe the close bonds that are forged when someone takes the time and effort to give to their people.

Some people end up as managers by default and, not surprisingly, they put all their focus on what they from their people, rather on what their people need from their manager. This is an impossible situation, as an effective manager’s mantra needs to be “give, give and then give some more”, especially if you want to help your people develop. (Hint: You might have to develop!)

Sadly in our culture the act of giving is not often cultivated.  After all, we live in a culture that is all about getting.  So most of us who manage teams of people have to perform a head taller than we are in order to give, especially in the moments when we are frustrated, disappointed, or let down by someone on our team.  This is where performance becomes a wonderful tool, as there are countless performances to be created at these moments!  As human beings we are all wonderfully creative when it comes to performing (think back to when you were a child).  The work I do with my clients is all about creating a character, a role, a performance for these challenging moments (this is how you can perform ahead taller and this is how we grow and develop).

Creative imitation is a good way to begin. Is there a mentor from your past, a role model, even an actor who you admire and can imitate?  What I mean by “creative imitation” is to create your version of this person, using them as inspiration to perform a head taller than you are.  Perhaps you steer clear of conflict – is there someone to imitate who is fearless in the face of conflict?  One of my clients decided to perform as Meryl Streep in Iron Lady, which allowed her to perform as a strong woman in situations that would normally intimidate her.

Next time you have to have a tough conversation with a team member, or you feel the frustrations that comes with being a manager, be a head taller than you are … perform (and develop)!