My favorite exercise from my Collaboration Muscles & Mindsets workout program is also the simplest and most fundamental. I call it the “One-Minute Drill.” In its simplest form, there is a speaker and a listener. The speaker spends one-minute answering a question or telling a story. He or she then takes a minute to answer the same question or to repeat the same story, refining or adding wherever he or she sees fit.

The listener listens without taking notes. When the speaker finishes, the listener reflects back what he or she heard. The speaker then grades the listener on a 1-5 scale (with 5 being the best) based on how well the listener reflected back what the speaker said. If the listener missed any nuance, no matter how subtle, the speaker is instructed not to give the listener a 5. I often have the listener repeat the exercise until he or she gets a 5.

It’s not easy. Even doing it once reveals a lot about both parties and about the nature and critical importance of listening, of synthesizing, of feeling heard, and of practice. But Muscles & Mindsets isn’t about doing exercises once. It’s about repetition, developing critical muscles, building good habits.

There are countless ways to tweak this exercise, and over the course of my program, participants experience many of these variations. It doesn’t matter how good they are at listening. At some point — usually sooner rather than later — they will fail the exercise.

Deep listening is hard enough when the circumstances are ideal. In reality, circumstances never are. Our attentions are constantly being pulled in multiple directions. Our physical, mental, and emotional states affect our ability to be present. Then there are times when we simply don’t care what the other person is saying.

The point of the exercise is not to prevent failure. It’s not even to minimize it. It’s to train ourselves to recognize it when it happens and to recover from it. You do this through practice, practice, practice.

Many of us — including me — often forget this. We focus on avoiding failure, rather than developing resilience, and we often punish ourselves when we inevitably fail.

Recently, Idelisse Malavé, a long-time advisor to the Social Transformation Project, shared a wonderful metaphor from Sharon Salzberg, a meditation teacher, and Idelisse kindly let me record her as she explained it. The work that so many of us are trying to do is fundamentally hard, like walking a tightrope. There are inevitably times when we will lose our balance and fall. If our reaction is to curse at ourselves, we will miss the many additional tightropes underneath us. Our focus should be on regaining our balance on a new tightrope so that we can start to walk again.

Photo by Josh Heald. CC BY-NC.


  1. Hi Eugene.
    I am very flattered by your posting this video.
    I failed to name the meditation teacher who shared this metaphor with me years ago and want to do so now: it was Sharon Salzburg, a wonderful teacher and writer.
    Thanks, ide

    1. Ide, I’m very flattered that you were so willing to share, especially when I put you on the spot like that! I thought you did a beautiful job of both diagramming and explaining the metaphor, and I’ve continued to think about it (as you can see!) since you shared it.

      Also, you did mention Sharon (although not on the video), so I was sure to include her name and a link to her site in the body of the post.

      Thank you again!

  2. Every year, at the iOSDevCamp.org hackathon, one of the highest prizes goes to the “Best Sacrifice to the Demo Gods”, aka “Even Steve Jobs can’t control the WiFi”. We demonstrate and reward the importance of failure in learning how to do difficult things:





    I’ve even seen engineers put on their LinkedIn resume that they have won this award 😉

    1. I love this, Chris, and it says a lot about hacker culture that people proudly put this on their LinkedIn profiles. Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. Funny I was jut talking abou this concept of falling back on habits in a work meeting today. Great post thanks for keeping up on documenting and sharing your tips of the trade, Eugene.

I'd love to hear what you think! Please leave a comment below.