There’s a new Benjamin Zander video over at the Pop!Tech conference website. There’s some overlap with the video from TED I posted back in June—most of the content in each video expands on the ideas in The Art of Possibility. Nonetheless, this video is well worth watching even if you’ve seen the few other videos of him on the internet.
In this video, Zander works with a 15-year-old cellist—who, as far as the boy knows, has come simply to perform for the crowd—and over the course of 20 minutes turns a technically sound performance into music, music that touches everyone there.
One moment that connects with me as an agile coach is when he teaches the young cellist how to respond to mistakes in a performance.
The natural response is to grimace, lose energy, become discouraged. (I was terrible about this as a young performing musician.) This launches a downward spiral that affects the rest of your performance and influences your audience’s perception of it. Instead of respond in that way, Zander suggests that the boy throw up his hands, smile, and say, “How fascinating!” That mistake is information. It’s an opportunity to learn and improve. He says in the book, “…it is only when we make mistakes in performance that we can really begin to notice what needs attention.” (p. 31)
The awareness of mistakes is not sufficient to improve. Improvement comes from a willingness to take risks and then to accept the inevitable mistakes as useful feedback. I tell managers that software teams that aren’t allowed to struggle and even fail in their early sprints will still struggle and still may fail…you just won’t know it in time to do anything about it. Your retrospectives may show that your team is a mess, that you struggle just to deliver working software, that there are a million places you could do better. “How fascinating!”