Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Practiced Vulnerability: The sweet spot to work and life?

What would it take to make ourselves vulnerable? To be our true selves in our careers and our lives? And would the risk be worth it?

In a captivating TED talk, researcher Brene Brown explores vulnerability, calling it the gateway to life experience, connection and love. Her research findings reveal that a courage to be imperfect and an embrace of authenticity – giving up who you should be in exchange for who you are – are at the root of human connection. Those who embrace vulnerability believe that what makes them vulnerable also makes them beautiful.

This reminds me of the essence and magic of comedy improv – actors live out the concept of vulnerability. Every time actors speak out, they do so trusting that their fellow actors will adopt and build on their response. If they falter with a weak reply, they trust their team will save. It’s not about “was it good enough?” or “was it worthy of a comical response?” – it just is. Actors must believe they are worthy and support the worthiness of others, they must embrace vulnerability. This is what makes improv perfectly magical. And perhaps why my friends say that performing improv has saved their lives...

What would it mean to be this vulnerable with our own careers? What if we approached consulting engagements as actors approach improv? If vulnerability at an individual level is the gateway to positive life experience, connection, and love, then could vulnerability in the workplace be the gateway to creativity, innovation, freshness and client intimacy. Are “perfectly polished” consulting firm and corporate cultures inhibiting value creation? By their very definition of professionalism, are they limiting the insight and innovation they produce?

Perhaps what we need in the workplace is "practiced vulnerability".  Expertise is of the essence, and research reveals that practice and preparation enhance execution and outcomes. Thus, the flip side of “perfectly polished” is not “chaotic vulnerability”. In consulting, as with improv, there must be a method to the engagement approach and deep expertise individuals bring to the table. But a "perfectly polished" mindset assumes that consultants have all the answers. It assumes that revealing anything less would be unprofessional. I propose that by approaching engagements with “practiced vulnerability” - by bringing our whole selves to the engagement and not being afraid to not have all the answers – we, as consultants, can foster out-of-the-box idea generation, challenge assumptions, and drive client intimacy and value.  And perhaps, we will end up saving our own lives...


  1. Heather, great article!

    I ESPECIALLY love the part about how taking a risk, being vulnerable, being "naked," being just you, helps grow human connection.

    That's the whole philosophy behind Fear Experiment, a current project of mine. I have 21 non-dancers and 20 non-improvisers, none of whom knew each other at the start, all rehearsing with a choreographer and teach in preparation of facing their fear of doing dance/improv publicly, in front of 700, at one of Chicago's most revered theaters. Talk about vulnerable, right?!?!

    You totally get to the heart of why such strong bonds have formed so fast amongst the groups.

    And I love how you apply it to the workplace.

  2. Thanks Saya!

    Let me know the next time you do a Fear Experiment. Sounds frighteningly exciting!



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