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!

Better bosses perform (and make mistakes)

I was reading yesterday’s article in the New York Times Business section, “Google’s Quest to Build a Better Boss”, with great interest.

A couple of things jump out at me – the first is that employing statistics as a way to learn to manage humans is odd (I admit that my bias is to use the tools of improvisation, play and performance).

The second is this quote from the article:

Problems start when you try to keep all those rules in your head at the same time – thus the golf cliche, “paralysis by analysis.” In management, as in golf, the greats make it all look effortless, which only adds to the sense of mystery and frustration for those who struggle to get better.

This quote made me think about my own efforts to become a better improviser and a better manager; watching great improvisers absolutely looks “effortless”.  It also reminded me that human growth and development is mysterious!

Perhaps we can all agree that managing people is the most challenging work we do.  When we do something difficult it’s easy to get caught up in trying to “get it right”.  We want to “learn the rules” of people management or improvisation vs. engaging in the activity of creating with each other, which is a more intimate and exposing activity … we make mistakes!  Improvisers struggle with getting out of our heads and into the moment and of course we make mistakes but it turns out that so-called “mistakes” are the most wonderful moments in improvisation because something unexpected happens.

The other article that I read in this week’s NY Times was “It’s Just Fine to Make Mistakes” http://nyti.ms/fZY83E.  Trying to “get it right” is a surefire way to be distant with the people we manage and work with.  If we approach managing people as a performance we might have a better shot at taking risks and giving our colleagues “clear and direct feedback”.  The self-conscious activity of performance (vs. behaving) is a powerful tool in developing new ways of being with each other.  It gets us out of “paralysis by analysis” or “getting it right” and into active listening, accepting and building and creating something brand new with people.

Here’s to performing as better bosses and making lots of mistakes along the way!