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I’m an Agilist, a former software engineer, a gamer, an improviser, a podcaster emeritus, and a wine lover. Learn more.

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Watch this. Then we’ll talk.

When I saw this sometime last year, what immediately jumped out at me was the thought, “Dude totally owned that.” He doesn’t have the vocal chops to pull off Lady Gaga, and he knows it. So instead, he embraces his limitations and makes this performance his own. He’s faking it, but we all ultimately are.

A few weeks back, our long-form improv team had a piece implode on us in rehearsal. One of the storylines involved a bet between God and the Devil; we eventually figured out that the Devil had to get a specific person to run naked around a fountain shouting “The Devil is God.” It became clear that we all thought this was kind of lame. That, however, wasn’t the problem. The problem was that we didn’t embrace the lameness. When we talked about it afterward, we realized were holding ourselves to the standard of the Old Testament. We felt like we had to come up with some amazing competition between these two cosmic beings in order for our story to have any juice. What we should have done, once the details of the bet were out there, was to instead make it a story about how God and the Devil have gone from Job to this. This is all they have to do now? Why is that? Let’s mine that for ideas.

That, as it turns out, is the trick, not just in performance, but in life. Given that these things have happened, how do we own them? How do we turn our limitations into our strengths?

About a month ago at work, I make a huge mistake during one of our retrospectives. I accidentally violated the trust the team had placed in me, and the response was immediate, emphatic, and unpleasant. So I owned it. I apologized — making clear that while I hadn’t intended what had resulted, I was to blame for it, and I accepted full responsibility — and I asked for feedback from the team about what we should do. It turned into an opportunity for us to make some of our implicit (and not always shared) agreements explicit, which ultimately has helped us work together better. That wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been willing to make mistakes, and when they did happen, seize upon them as opportunities.

Miles Davis is supposed to have said, “There are no mistakes in jazz — only opportunities.” Everything can be jazz if you’re willing to own it.

Reader Comments (2)

Wonderful and thought-provoking post, Paul. Thank you for sharing. Embracing my new career, I'm finding that this is very applicable advice.

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew J Bonham

It's funny how other people want to perfect everything. Maybe the society dictates a law about being perfect and along with that, people are afraid to commit mistakes. I think, it's fine to commit mistakes. We learn from them. Also, I agree with you. We should always embrace our limitations and accept our flaws so that we can learn how to

November 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHugh Samuel

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