Allow yourself to make mistakes. Very, very publicly.

Christine KaneI was looking through Christine Kane’s wonderful blog (thx Mike) and lemmetellya, the lady can write. She’s smart and funny – and that’s in addition to being a great musician and singer.

On her site I found a post called 8 things you get when you order my new DVD. Reason number 8 is my favorite:

8 – You get to feel better about yourself.

So, the concert ends with a song called The Problem with Jazz. And we mess it up! Right at the end! Right at the last drum beat! The band falls to pieces. Not only do we mess up a song ó but itís the end of the whole evening!

Now, as you know, these things can be edited. We couldíve re-filmed it. We couldíve even cut to a different shot and taken out the sound. But I was in the editing suite, and I said, “Nah. Letís leave it. Itís funny.”

Hereís why I left it, really: If I can screw up the ending of a show in front of 400 people and thousands of other viewers, then you donít have to feel so bad if you mess up, say, at your office in front of five or ten or twenty-five people. Or when you give a speech. Really, itís a way to make you feel better about yourself. Most music videos donít offer such a raw glimpse of human foibles. Theyíre all edited and perfected, and so you donít get a chance to see the human side of performing.

Well, now Iíve changed that trend! By next week, youíll see videos of Celine Dion tripping over one of her dancers and falling face first onto the stage and then laughing it off as she hoists her sequin gown back over her left buttock. Just you wait!

That’s hilarious. And it totally sealed it for me – I had to order the DVD just to see them get it wrong :o)

Christine’s point is also a great reminder to allow ourselves to fail – and to be seen failing. This goes great at work too.

Peter Drucker’s said that companies should find all the employees who never make mistakes and fire them, because the only people who never mess up are those who never do anything interesting.

Prasad Kurian suggests we should promote people the way some ancient societies chose a new chief – pick the person with the most scars. That person has taken risks – but not enough to get killed.

Randy Nelson of Pixar says that “You have to honor failure, because failure is just the negative space around success.”

And finally, there’s my own experience from learning to wakeboard over the last two months. I’ve been getting pretty good at it (as you can see here), but it has cost me a lot of falls. Some of them very public and more than a little painful. Like last Sunday, when I got a little overconfident and steered right into a pier :o)

Wakeboarding at Copenhagen Cable Park

And yes, these days anything is an excuse for me to mention wakeboarding. I’m hooked, dammit :o)

12 thoughts on “Allow yourself to make mistakes. Very, very publicly.”

  1. :)
    Here is a quote that liberated me…. (I take more risks now because of it)… it is by Anthony de Mello:

    I’m going to write a book someday and the title will be I’m an Ass, You’re an Ass. That’s the most liberating, wonderful thing in the world, when you openly admit you’re an ass. It’s wonderful. When people tell me, “You’re wrong.” I say, “What can you expect of an ass?”


  2. Alex, very happy to see you check out Christine’s blog and music. You are absolutely dead-on when you say, “lemmetellya, the lady can write”.

    Your observation about public failure reminds me of a day where I found a colleague walking his bike through a residential neighborhood. I stopped the car and asked why.

    He said he had just wiped out and had hurt his leg. I offered him a lift and we threw his bike in the trunk of the car.

    Afterwards as we visited about the event he asked me if I had seen his accident. I said, “no”.

    He then told me his first instinct after falling was to get up as fast as he could and look around to see if anyone had happened to notice.

    We both felt there was a lesson in this about failure and the instinct to recoil from any public awareness regarding our mistakes.

    Thanks for enlarging the conversation about failure!

    Keep creating,

  3. Great story, thanks.

    It reminds me of Strunk and White’s classic, Elements of Style. Apparently Strunk once told his students, “If you can’t pronounce a word, say it loud!” White was in the class and said he always regarded it as good advice: “Why compound ignorance with inaudibility. Why run and hide?”

    Why, indeed.

    I loved Peter’s quote, too.

    My latest post at cheerfulmonk is entitled, “We Don’t Have to Be Perfect.” Even if you don’t read the words, you might like the picture.

  4. I had a client on the phone on one occasion and we were looking through his accounts. I suddenly realised I’d made a mistake.

    “Tim, I’m an idiot”, I said, and explained what I’d done, and promised to put his accounts right, and apologised.

    “Don’t worry” said the client. “I’d never get angry with someone who makes a mistake and owns up to it”.

    Everyone’s only human – we’re all going to make a bodge at some point. As Darrick says, it’s far better to admit you’ve boobed and put it right, than to shoot a load of spin at the client – I’d have much more respect for politicians if they admitted it when they made mistakes.


  5. Well having jumped horses and windsurfed in the past I can say that you only ever learn to do something properly from making mistakes. My early windsurfing endeavours sound a bit like your wakeboarding, it was on a old quarry lake and for 2 hours I sat stranded at the far end of the lake. But I was too focused to paddle back and kept trying, kept falling off, but I sailed that board back to where I wanted to be!

  6. True. We shouldn’t be afraid of making mistakes. I believe that mistakes are our way of learning. We should learn to accept them in a good way by learning our lessons.

  7. I may not be thrilled to make mistakes, but I do accept it every time it comes my way. It has offered me a lot of lessons and made me a better person.

  8. And here’s a funny update.

    Yesterday, I was working on my Danish newsletter which goes out to 1500 people and while I was writing a very early draft version, I accidentally hit Send instead of Save.

    Aaaaargh! That was failing VERY publicly.

    All I could do was finish the newsletter quickly and then send out the finished version with an explanation and an apology :o)

  9. Try your philosophy in say a medical setting or perhaps a military one. On second thoughts, maybe your gun could do with a clean?

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