Mistakes, in Music as in Life, are Development Opportunities



Acknowledging a mistake is the first step in taking the power to do something about it. Accountability is power. But we can go a bit further. And become curious about what's happening in the dissonant note. Curiosity turns an actor into an agent.

How you frame situations changes what happens next. It's possible to pick from a spectrum of choices. Many corporate environments could use more fun and engaging relationships. In many command-and-control cultures perfection is the only option.

Mistakes do happen, but they get papered over You never hear from the company, ghosted. Or excused out, “I'm sorry you feet that way.” Managers reason that everything needs to perform just so. Yet, it's possible to be exacting and open at the same time.

Take a page from jazz. Improvisation is integral to jazz. Miles Davis was an exacting person. He could be demanding, hypercritical, cranky, abrasive, and downright mean. These personal qualities and the consistent excellence of his playing could lead you to think that he was a perfectionist. With a no mistakes policy.

[Herbie] Hancock gives us a very different impression. He talks about a “hot night” in Stuttgart, when the music was “tight, it was powerful, it was innovative, and fun.” Hancock made a mistake in the middle of one of Davis’ solos—he hit a wrong chord. It was embarrassing.



“Miles paused for a second, and then he played some notes that made my chord right… Miles was able to turn something that was wrong into something that was right.” Hancock was so upset that he couldn’t play for about a minute. His own ideas about “right” and “wrong” notes kept him stuck.

What I realize now is that Miles didn’t hear it as a mistake. He heard it as something that happened. As an event. And so that was part of the reality of what was happening at that moment. And he dealt with it…. Since he didn’t hear it as a mistake, he thought it was his responsibility to find something that fit.

We can draw a larger life lesson from Hancock's musical lesson. A lesson about development, which requires, “a mind that’s open enough… to be able to experience situations as they are and turn them into medicine… take whatever situation you have and make something constructive happen with it.”

He quotes Davis. What matters is how we respond to what’s happening around us: “When you hit a wrong note, it’s the next note that you play that determines if it’s good or bad.” The world of ones and zeros, the world of algorithms, is writing code that reinforces right and wrong. 

There's more nuance in the human world. People can be more flexible. You can learn to see a step beyond a false note, and adapt. Who you could be if you opened your mind with curiosity drives what you do next. There are excellent reasons why. As Davis says, “Do not fear mistakes. There are none.”


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