Business Lessons I learned…from Karaoke #4

If you are worried that you are going to make a mistake, make it a BIG ONE. 

It is not uncommon that the song in the karaoke menu, that was going to blow the walls off the bar, suddenly sounds and feels different to the anxious crooner on stage.  In the car or shower he belted it out real sexy, but live, this jam is stretching vocal cords with unknown consequences. This is a lesson for anybody that sings Steve Perry or Journey songs and thinks they sound just like him.  “Separate Ways” is turned up and for a second you feel like you could replace Perry or whoever they have now at Journey’s next reunion.  I know this feeling and have felt the consequences of that confidence.  But once I reflected on it, the stretch helped me greatly and now I look for opportunities to stretch, flex, reach my vocal cords whenever possible. Truthfully, it’s all about how I redefined risk as gains.

We can and should make mistakes in business.  When they are calculated and less risky, it’s ok to go for it all. Many understand that business is always the acceptance of some measure of risk. Unfortunately losing at risk is viewed as a measure of incompetence.  According to Sundheim risk is all about vision, acting and learning fast,  and being confident in that act. I believe in most cases, we consider the risk without visualizing the reward and worry about how far or how incompetent we look. However, we could do a whole lot more if we just took the threat out of risk and change our perception of gain. If making the decision to take a risk is not going to destroy your business, family, and self, there is always an opportunity to learn, pivot, reapply and see again.

In reality, I was inspired to sing Journey that Wednesday because I actually saw Steve Perry perform his own song at Dimples in Burbank, CA.  So I write “Separate Ways” on the karaoke slip and confidently hand it to the MC.  My ex-girlfriend was sitting next to me when I got called up and she was always a big supporter of my singing.  Needless to say it didn’t go well and as the first chorus began, I realized I started well above my comfortable range.  The raise in octave on the chorus sounded like nails on the chalkboard and made many wish they had ear plugs, including my supportive ex-girlfriend.  Unlike some who have felt the same, I would try to sing Journey’s jams again. But these days I look for songs I’m not necessarily equipped for each Wednesday.

The lesson here is not to avoid Steve Perry jams but to understand that writing Separate Ways, Faithfully, or Don’t Stop Believing on a karaoke slip will require something that you haven’t prepared, reached, or experienced yet.  Those unknowns are where the gains are in karaoke and business.  The scope of each gain is truly unlimited.  And depending on what you learned or the connections you made by reaching, preparing and experiencing, your business could change overnight.  If you subscribe to this idea, then you see that the risk lies when you stop taking risks. At one time your parents probably said, “ Go and make some mistakes.” And this lesson suggests that you should never stop.  Taking risks only makes people and institutions greater and the real gain isn’t realized until you take enough of them to gain confidence taking even more.

We know that without risk there is no reward, no money, no clients, no early retirement. So how do we navigate spending, hiring, marketing, owning a business. If you ask Doug Sundheim, we need to see the future as if it was today.  We act quickly, learn quickly, communicate confidently and create a smarter risk taking culture.  And in his book of case studies Taking Smart Risks: How Sharp Leaders Win When Stakes Are High, it appears that risk versus reward is all optics and the real reward is creating a culture that can quickly learn and respond.  Seemingly, companies that take risks shouldn’t worry about failing at all, just convincingly and confidently implement new roles and  new procedures, learning quickly as decisions create change and a new corporate culture.

I’m inclined to agree with Sundheim on most of this but I want to unpack the notion about “learning quickly” and the value it may have for risk takers. I don’t think corporations can just learn quickly.  And I know there are many examples of businesses that needed to learn quickly, but didn’t and failed.  Sears had as many chances to learn quickly. Chrysler had chances to learn quickly but they couldn’t become that kind of business.  Those that can learn quickly have a huge advantage to companies that can’t. However this advantage is rarely innate in business it is an acquired skill.  It has to be tested and tried, failed and restructured, until a business or individual has the capacity to “learn quickly”.  Once the characteristic becomes a part of the organization or business, a risk becomes just another opportunity for gain.

Now I realize that the comparison of karaoke missteps to business risk decisions could be difficult to harmonize but the thought of becoming a better culture of learning and corporate growth might be worth overlooking the poor metaphor.  I learned something when I tried to sing Perry that night at Dimples Karaoke Bar in Burbank.  Not only will I prepare, strategize and practice my upper range for Journey songs, but I know how to breath when attacking higher notes, and most importantly, what to do when it doesn’t work, or how to make quick adjustments. Quick adjustments or quick learning, according to Sundheim, maybe one of the best features of your business, and any gain towards that end is worth the risk.

If given a choice on a Wednesday night, your karaoke companion asked if you want to be Freddie Mercury or David Bowie in his upcoming duet of “Under Pressure”, whom do you pick and why? Do you take Bowie’s steady confident lyrics or do you reach for Mercury’s screaming zeniths?  One is going to feel great afterward for a while while the other may change how you sing karaoke forever.  See you next Wednesday!