How Fascinating!

Yesterday was a day of mistakes.  Not so much making mistakes, but talking about them.  It started with Bret Pettichord’s tweet

Agile requires the courage to make mistakes in front of others and the maturity to admit them when they happen.

Surely this is true.  Agile is all about paying attention to what happens and adjusting for it.  We learn most when when thing are a little off from what we want, we notice that, and we correct for it.

Brian Marick responded

I now think that Agile requires the creation of an environment in which admitting mistakes doesn’t require courage.

Surely this is also true.  If we want people to notice when things are a little off, so we can make a correction, then we have to make it easy to talk about our mistakes.  If we don’t, the little mistakes get swept under the carpet and we continue on our way–until the mistakes grow so big that we can’t ignore them any more.  By this time we’re way off the path we want.

In other words, well, in my words,

I think Agile requires creating environment where admitting mistakes requires no more courage than you have.

We can’t eliminate the need for courage to admit our mistakes.  It’s human nature to gloss over even tiny ones, and hope no one noticed.  But we can reduce the stigma of making mistakes.

How fascinating!

was the comment by Willem Larsen.  Willem and Evan Gardner are spreading Evan’s “Where Are Your Keys” language fluency game.  It’s expected that you’ll make mistakes when learning a language.  The response to such a mistake is “how fascinating” signed by raising both hands in the air.  Everyone laughs.  No one feels badly for making a mistake.  In fact, it feels good to share your mistakes with a laugh and helpful colleagues rather than to hide it inside.

Is that the way it feels when you make a mistake in your team?  What could you change so it does feel that way?

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Comments (10) to “How Fascinating!”

  1. I also like:

    “Let’s make better mistakes tomorrow”

  2. I beat myself up when I make a mistake, but nobody else on my team thinks badly of me, so I am not sure why I do that. I love the “how fascinating” sign! I think I’ll start doing that!

  3. George,

    Nice post. I agree.

    I read the same Twitter exchanges closely and blogged about a different aspect of them at

    Ironically, I made a mistake in typing Bret’s name my blog post. It’s OK, I’m not afraid to admit it.

    I’m all for work environments that (1) acknowledge mistakes happens and problems exist, (2) avoid assigning blame, (3) acknowledge that human mistakes are inevitable, and (4)look to address root causes of the issues where possible.

    W. Edwards Deming would thunder his approval with Bret and Brian’s tweets if he were still with us.

    – Justin

  4. > Ironically, I made a mistake in typing Bret’s name my blog post. It’s OK, I’m not afraid to admit it.

    How fascinating! YoY

  5. Wow. Great minds err alike, I guess. I also wrote today on this topic!

    Good post, George!

  6. I think every healthy organization requires environment where admitting mistakes is easy and requires no more courage than people already have.

    What I often observe is team members rushing to point fingers and that’s manager’s or leader’s role to cut it and move on in a way which will be valuable for the team.

    “The milk is spilled” is our starting point. You won’t pour it back to the glass. You have to clean up and move on.

  7. In one of my favorite work experiences (way back when the Simpsons was relatively new!), “DOH!” was a pretty good rough translation of “How fascinating!” It was offered in the same spirit, so it seems.

    —Michael B.

  8. The “how fascinating sign” is also described on Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds. When he’s discussing the presentation of Benjamin Zander.

    Garr Reynolds posts:

  9. You can also find it at the following link:

    Rosamund Zander (Ben’s wife) explains the idea of stating “how fascinating” when making a mistake.

  10. Great post. I shared this at the XPToronto user group meeting and we had a lively discussion.

    One notion I added is that Agile is about creating SAFETY on teams so people don’t need courage to do admit mistakes and do the right thing. Maybe I had it on my brain thinking about crucial conversations…

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