Don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for.
You wanna get ahead?
Fools who run their mouths off’ wind up dead.”
— [bad advice from] Aron Burr, Hamilton Broadway Play, Aaron Burr, Sir
As I’ve written about before, I am a big fan of the Hamilton Broadway show. You will be hard-pressed to find another grown man that likes a musical play more than I like Hamilton and I am more than proud to admit it.
Finally this Spring, after much waiting and saving for the trip, my wife and I were fortunate enough to visit Chicago to see the show live (picture right). The show more than lived up to our expectations and that night in March will forever remain one of the most fun things we’ve ever done together.
The Hamilton play is fascinating for many reasons. But what is not fascinating about the Hamilton play is its cast’s insane rise to stardom and how it has taken the media world by storm over the last year. What is fascinating is not even the overture, the acting, or the set. What is fascinating about the play, however, is how it began, and how the play’s writer Lin-Manuel Miranda actually beta tested the idea for the musical while performing live at a White House Poetry Jam gala in front of President Obama and hundreds of other guests. He did this before he had ever even performed the Hamilton songs and, well, before he had ever even written lyrics to a single whole track. You can watch the video of this performance at the White House at the bottom of this article.
Broadway and Information Technology
Miranda said in a recent interview on The Late Night Show with Seth Meyers that he hadn’t even written one full song but had only completed “16 bars” of a song in actuality. Despite the lack of preparation, when he was invited to perform at the White House in 2009 he decided he would use the opportunity to test the concept of a hip-hop rap musical about the story of Alexander Hamilton. If it would work in the White House, Miranda explained, then he knew he had something special.
To mostly everyone, this would seem risky at best, and to everyone else – utterly asinine at worst. White House galas such as this one typically feature astounding professionals: astute poet laureates, famous musicians, actors, and activists. These well-renowned artists often perform renditions of songs they have played a thousand times, or poems that have been read and reread to crowds all over the world, or maybe even historical pieces of mastery such as Othello’s address to the Venetian senators, like James Earl Jones did. In short, the performers always demonstrate a finished and proven product of art. As stated, however, Miranda took a wholly different approach, presenting an unfinished product despite the highest of stakes.
In the technology world, we might call what Miranda did a form of “UAT testing,” which stands for User Acceptance Testing. UAT is performed as a standard operating procedure within the SDLC framework (Systems Development Lifecycle). UAT happens when a software program has been completed just enough to be handed over to someone who can play around with it.
The goal of UAT is to find what is broken and/or inadequate and therefore document what is acceptable versus what does not pass users’ acceptance. UAT is typically done before the customer sees the program and furthermore it is done in a safe environment, both figuratively and literally. This testing of a computer program is performed by people who are on the team and understand the final objective and the promise of the finished product. They are safe to test the unfinished version because they are mutually invested. Testing is done with the confidence that the hundreds or thousands of hours that have been put into development will pay off if the team can fix the last few issues. Furthermore, UAT is done quite literally in a safe environment also because it is typically set-up in a privately hosted virtual space where no one except the team members involved can see the unfinished product. It remains only for those with private access until testing is completed. Said differently, it won’t be released to the public until it is tested, retested, and perfected. This is a smart decision for products with high stakes.
Having said all of this, I believe that Lin-Manuel Miranda would make for a terrible software programmer and would have a short-lived career in IT.
Thankfully, however, he is not in IT, and thankfully he isn’t building software for our companies or our customers. No, instead Miranda is exactly what he appears to be: an artist, a visionary, and a leader. More than these things, however, Miranda is guts and gusto, having the nerve to test his unfinished and unpolished product through a medium that could have led to grave humiliation if it did not go well.
But it did go well. In fact it usually does, for all of us. When we put ourselves out there even when untested, unproven, and unsure of the outcome, we rarely fall on our faces. The fear of failure is almost always greater than the possible failure itself.
Put Yourself Out There
I believe that deep inside of us we all possess the artist, the visionary, and the leader. We all have the ability to harness great achievement, production, and grander, yet we hold back in an effort to spare our egos. We don’t put ourselves out there on the ledge because the fall might hurt. We prefer safety over the risk of failure.
In business, this is the quiet employee who sees problems but doesn’t speak up or the leader who sees opportunities to fix what’s broken but doesn’t work to resolve the issues.
In relationships, this is the boy or girl, man or woman, who doesn’t open up, doesn’t extend, doesn’t give all, doesn’t let the guard down, doesn’t trust.
In art, this is the painter, writer, singer, creator, designer, the one who has something to share, a message, a craft, a gift, but continually holds back for fear of exposure or ridicule.
In life, this is all of us, full of fear for what damage “might happen” and how it may not work in our favor. Or it’s a fear of expending hard work with a risk of little or no reward at all. Fear of failure or embarrassment. Fear of being vulnerable. Fear of fear.
Furthermore, what is even more challenging about putting yourself out there is that small steps rarely get the job done. No, instead, it is massive and often disruptive moves that are required for real value gained. Baby steps usually won’t accomplish anything truly rewarding, rather it is the big leap outside of comfort that brings that to us.
This blog is a perfect example of this in my own life. For years I wanted to make my writing public but the fear of putting myself out there held me back. Writing clever tweets and journaling was a way to quiet the inner voice, but in the end it did little to enhance my life. Maybe this doesn’t apply to you, of course, it won’t apply to everyone. Maybe you have no desire to write a blog or share yourself. At an even greater extreme, maybe you wouldn’t even want the opportunity to perform at the White House for the President.
But you do have something that you are holding back on. We all do. What is it? Will you regret putting yourself out there? Truth be told: yes, maybe you will regret it. After all, regret is just another choice. But if you never try then you will never reach your full potential and experience all of what life has to offer, and you most certainly will never become a “hit.”
“I am not throwing away my shot,
I am not throwing away my shot,
yo I’m just like my country,
I’m young, scrappy, and hungry,
and I am not throwing away my shot.”
— Alexander Hamilton, Hamilton Broadway Play, My Shot
Continuing on the theme of musical theater, Victor Hugo is one of the best writers the world has ever known. He wrote the well-known works of Les Miserables, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, and Cromwell, as well as over thirty other works that you probably haven’t even heard of.
Victor said this:
“The future has many names.
For the weak, it’s unattainable.
For the fearful, it’s unknown.
For the bold, it’s ideal.”
This quote rings true but even simpler than this we have all heard the adage that “with great risk comes great reward.” If this is true then so too might be that “with no risk comes no reward.”
It’s time to dig deep, find what you have been holding back, and put yourself out there. It’s time to be bold.