• joe@jhanderson.biz   
    (206) 351-5607   

  • One of my favorite Netflix programs is Japanese Style Originator. A panel of Japanese celebrities views video segments on nooks and crannies of Japanese culture and tries to correctly guess the reasons for various details. The show is a delightful window into the subtleties of (for example) chopstick usage and tofu-making, but it also reveals the way those subtleties are viewed and understood (or not understood) by more-or-less ordinary people.

    Episode 28 is devoted to traditional Japanese crafts. One segment is about a workshop that carves heads for bunraku puppets. (Good examples here and more information here.) We see three generations of craftsmen working away on these expressive wooden heads for traditional puppets, and then we see a shelf sitting near one of their workbenches. A row of puppet heads sits there, for no apparent purpose. That’s the question for the panel: why are those puppet heads on the shelf?

    After a range of guesses from the panel the answer comes: these heads are the carver’s mistakes. A tiny misalignment here, a small stray chip there…and the head goes on the shelf, where it remains to gaze at the craftsman. His explanation? “Seeing these mistakes reminds me that I need to try harder.”

    How comfortable would you be having your mistakes on the wall staring at you? For many of us that would be a bit of a challenge – I know it would be for me. I gained fresh insight into my relationship with my mistakes from Carol Dweck’s book Mindset. She describes two basic mindsets: fixed and growth. A fixed mindset would really rather not make mistakes at all…but if mistakes come, the solution is to shy away from them, give up, find something else to do. A growth mindset, on the other hand, makes you eager to learn – whatever it takes. If you need a row of leering misshapen samurai heads staring at you, then so be it.

    In the technology delivery world, the retrospective is perhaps the closest thing to a shelf of crooked puppet heads. It’s not easy to look at those errors, large or small, that made for late shipment or too many defects or a misalignment with user expectations. I think “growth mindset” is a great concept for shifting the tenor of the conversation. But it’s important to realize that, for those of us who have been reared in a fixed mindset (I’m putting my hand up here), it’s not necessarily easy to make that shift: we have old habits that don’t go away easily. Recognizing the voices of self-criticism and unreasonable expectations of perfection is a good first step. Hanging old mistakes on the wall? It might take a little while to get there.