Be Bad First

The other day I was listening to some DJs talk about what it took to be a stand-up comedian. To be successful, they outlined how you had to go into small clubs where no-one knew you (even if you were famous.) You would tell your jokes and expect to fail a thousand times. Slowly you would find what resonated with the audience, and you would build your joke repertoire. The conversation reminded me of the book ‘Be Bad First’ by Erika Andersen. I don’t remember much about the book, but I do recall the emphasis on the concept that when you first start something, you will be bad at it. The only way to get good at something is to be bad first and to keep working on it.

When you start walking or riding a bike or talking, people are not good at it. It is the failures that teach us what we should do better. It is the challenges that make us better in the future. Someone who has to overcome a speech impediment as a child may become a very articulate public speaker because he has learned how to articulate every word so that his audience can hear him.

We should not fear being bad, but we should acknowledge that it will hurt. It hurts to fall off your bike. It hurts to have people laugh at your business proposal because it isn’t very good. This pain can stop us from trying again. But it shouldn’t.

The tradition advice might be to keep the big vision in mind when you fall down. When you are bad at first, and it hurts, keep working towards the end-goal. This might be good advice on one level. Somewhere in your heart, you know what it looks like to ride a bike gracefully. Somehow you know that you can be a successful businesswoman. But the big vision isn’t the only thing that you should be focusing on. What you need to do is focus on not being as bad next time. Stay on your bike a little longer. Have one thought-provoking moment in a meeting before they laugh at you. You will still be bad, but you will be a little bit better.

They say that the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. The definition of improvement here is almost to do exactly the same thing over and over again. Just have a slightly better result next time. And a little better. And a smidge better. Eventually, you won’t be bad at what you are doing. You will be an expert because you got better. Even though you were bad first.

Be bad first. Don’t fear it. Accept that this is the way it has to be.