So, here’s a headline: “Bill Gates admits Contrl-Alt-Delete was a mistake, blames IBM”.
Wow. From the article, found here: “It was a mistake,” Gates admits to an audience left laughing at his honesty. “We could have had a single button, but the guy who did the IBM keyboard design didn’t wanna give us our single button.”
“An audience left laughing at his honesty…” So, we have a headline that one of the richest men in the world, who built an empire based on experiment, innovation, and development (alright, Mac lovers, that’s another conversation!) admitted a mistake in front of an audience, and they were left laughing by his honesty.
In the improv world, we do a lot to train ourselves to celebrate failure, and to find the inherent possibility in our mistakes. Mistakes happen. In improv parlance, they are offers. They are part of reality, and a critical component of any learning/development process. But somehow, out there in the rest of the world, the admission of a mistake has become a novelty–has become, in the case of a famous man, news. Worse, I think, is the fact that we, the non-famous millions, even fail to admit mistakes to our close associates, our partners, our loved ones. Mistake= weakness? Is that the issue? I propose to you that admitting a mistake should actually not be worthy of a headline. It should be, in fact, a widely accepted, simple tool for success.
I recommend an excellent book: Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts by Carol Tavris. Let’s consider the headline again, and then Ms. Tavris’ title: “Gates admits…mistake, blames IBM.” Mistakes…but not by me. Yep.
I imagine that Bill Gates has actually learned the importance of admitting his mistakes, at least in-house, long ago. But in our public culture, admission of a mistake is a big no-no. Is it so rare that Mr. Gates admits mistakes to the public that it is worthy of a headline? Is this merely because of the perversity of the press, or is something deeper going on?
I am not Bill Gates. Granted, I run a small company, but its assets would probably not even account for a day’s coffee-stirrer budget for Microsoft. I make mistakes—who knows how many in a given day–dozens? So, why is it hard for me to admit one? What invisible (and non-existent) press corps do I fear? What headline do I imagine they would write, if I admitted a mistake? Would it be news, or would it be a moment for learning and growth?
In improv, we call the little voice in our head that calls for the non-admission of mistakes the Censor. In coaching parlance, the Saboteur. Whatever you call it, it’s a voice that can stunt your growth. Today, I am going to try to write a new headline: “Burns admits mistake, learns from the experience.”
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