Are You a Singer or a Juggler?

I’ve been a huge fan of America’s Got Talent ever since it came out a decade ago. Now in its 11th season, the show provides what I believe is a great representation of what America should stand for: embracing diversity while acknowledging that we all have something to offer and that  hard work pays off.

But what I most love about the show is the fact that it has transformed reality. The media used to pick talent. Now, the discovery of talent has been thoroughly democratized. Everyone—or at least a much larger group of people who are innately talented—now have the chance of being discovered and “making it.”

The cost of discovery used to be so high. Now it’s not, which is a beautiful thing.


The Juggler

As fans of the show will know, this year was the first time that a juggler made it to the final stages—spaces usually reserved for singers. Ukranian-born Viktor Kee took the country by storm with his amazingly choreographed juggling act.

Why is he the first one to make it that far?

There are a few groups of performers—like comedians, magicians, gymnasts, dancers, and musicians—that appear on the show regularly. Musicians always tend to do well. Is it because music is something everyone can relate to?

Music evokes emotion and moves us more than most other things. It gives us energy and releases serotonin. At its core, we become the instrument, clapping our hands and tapping our feet. Before we can even speak, music affects us.

Musicians can get away with a slightly off-pitch note or a missed lyric here and there. But jugglers? Drop a ball and your whole act is finished.

Juggling taps into a narrow band of emotions. If you have ever watched juggling acts, the emotion you are most likely to experience is suspense. And, that is because juggling has binary outcomes; even worse, a successful outcome is not necessarily rewarded. Instead, they just didn’t screw up. It’s like an animal in the Savannah that ventures out to the watering hole. There is no joy, just danger.

What set Kee apart from other jugglers was the fact that juggling turned into a part of his act. He told stories, danced, and contorted his body—evoking emotions to go further than other jugglers had gone before. Really, Kee was more of a stage performer who happened to be skilled at juggling.


Are You A Singer or a Juggler

Lesson learned: If we’re just juggling in life, our outcomes can be limiting. Drop the proverbial ball—however slightly—and it can have a direct negative impact on our success.

Here’s an example from my current life: My company has been planning an event (InsureTech Connect) where we envision entrepreneurs and venture capitalists getting to meet one another in a productive and collaborative setting. As we began hammering out the details, we were forced to consider a slew of questions:


  • How many VCs should be invited?
  • How many entrepreneurs?
  • Should we only do it one time?
  • Should we do it over both days of the conference?


The “juggling” aspect of this all became very noticeable. We believed it was a great idea, but if there was one slip up—let’s say not enough VCs showed up—the entire experience would feel off. There’d be empty spaces where you’d be able to envision a VC should be.


Ultimately, we decided to hold the event over one day with half the number of VCs than we initially planned on targeting. That guaranteed that everyone would show up. The worst-case scenario now became the chance that the event was too busy and you couldn’t find the time to chat with someone. Those who would be able to meet with a VC would value their time that much more.  


With everything you do, there’s always an execution risk. Elements that are more juggling-related, where there can be a slight miss, tend to have a larger shock impact when things go wrong and the ball is proverbially dropped. Those impacts can overshadow everything else that you’ve done.


Bottom line: Be cognizant of what your misses are and whether or not they have the ability to dwarf everything else you’re doing. Adjust your plans accordingly, and you’ll be that much likelier to make it to the championship.