Seeking a meaningful way to spend a few spare minutes? Head on over to the TED website, which profiles some of the best thinkers and ideas out there right now. TED, if you’re not familiar, is a nonprofit devoted to ideas worth spreading. It hosts an annual conference that brings together people from the worlds of technology, entertainment and design and lets everyone benefit from the conference by making the best talks and performances available for free online.

I recently viewed a TED video in which improvisational jazz musician Stefon Harris drew some interesting parallels between jazz music and business. Focusing on how we perceive and react to supposed “mistakes” Stefon explained that in improvisational jazz, there are no real errors, only chances for the creation of better music.

Whether or not you’re a fan of jazz music, I highly encourage you to watch this video here. If you don’t have the time to view it, here are my two key takeaways to share with you:

Within every mistake is an opportunity. Our human nature causes us to become discouraged or angry when we encounter failures or make mistakes in business. However, if we begin to believe that all mistakes present opportunities for growth, we can more easily push through the negative emotions that follow mistakes and get to the positive possibilities that exist. This principle is illustrated in Stefon’s presentation when one musician plays an “off” key. Instead of disregarding this apparent mistake, the other musicians use it as a launching pad to improvise and end up creating better music than they might have otherwise.

Listen before you act.  Of course we all wish for the self-control to listen before taking action, but how often do we really try to follow this principle in business? We can so easily get swept away with an idea, create an elaborate strategic plan and steamroll ahead, all without pausing to fully listen to our peers, colleagues or circumstances. Unfortunately, then chaos usually erupts and our seemingly good ideas don’t end up serving us as well as we had planned. In the same way, if improvisational jazz musicians operated in silos, so to speak, and didn’t listen to one another, no one would want to listen to their music! They would only wind up producing chaotic, hard-on-the-ears tunes.

Do these principles ring true in your business experience? How have you seen mistakes become valuable to your professional growth and/or the growth of your business?

About the Author(s)

Cindy Bates

Cindy Bates is the vice president of the U.S. Small- and Mid-Sized Business (SMB) Organization at Microsoft. Cindy and her team serve millions of SMB's in the U.S., helping them start, grow and thrive by utilizing today’s powerful and affordable technologies.

Vice President, Microsoft SMB
jazz musician