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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Lerner

This Ice Breaker Could Get Me In Trouble. (But it Works)

I often need to get workshop participants into a "growth mindset" right away, getting them to re-examine their thinking and assumptions, which is awkward in a room full of strangers... at 9AM. So I use this... unconventional ice breaker:

It's an extra question, after the usual intro (name, company, role, etc.): "Tell me about a mistake you’ve made recently.” This shakes them up, gets them to think.

To set the tone and make it less awkward, I go first. I share a different mistake every time, a recent “fresh” one that still stings a bit. It's important for my mistake to feel sincere and to make myself a bit vulnerable. This creates the space for everyone else in the room to reflect and answer the question in earnest, without fear of appearing dumb or oversharing.

Anyways… I was thinking that this might be a good way to start your weekly growth meetings - go around the room and ask each person to share a mistake. Let me know how it goes for you.


Do people take the question seriously?

The truth is, some people make a joke out of it, or have some b.s. fake mistake, or talk about somebody else’s mistakes like “My mistake was I should have fired that agency sooner.” (that last one teaches you a lot about that person) But 80% of the people take the question seriously and open up a bit of themselves. And that immediately transforms the entire dynamic of the session.

Could this backfire?

I do think this is risky. If there is a leader in the room who is really not okay with mistakes or failure, it could backfire and make some people very uncomfortable. But if you work in such an organization… just hit reply and I'll tell you about a number of startups who embrace learning (and are hiring). 😈

What kind of mistake should you share?

Choosing the right mistake to share is the secret to making the whole thing work. I pick something that I’m genuinely embarrassed about, something that I would not otherwise choose to talk about (don't be shy - reveal your insecurities). I've seen that people can sense that authentic vulnerability in me. It’s scary. But it gets easier every time (and even transforming me in the process).

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