Why Adele Stopped the Show at the Grammys?

When we make mistakes in private or in public, we can sometimes give ourselves a hard time.

After last night at the 2017 Grammy Awards the highly successful and famous singer, Adele is trending worldwide on every social media platform known to mankind. As I write this post, Twitter is going crazy. I’m not a huge fan of awards ceremonies so it would never appeal to me to sit through one, but it’s hardly essential. Everything you need to know will be on the news feeds the next day.

So, I watch the replay of Adele start the tribute song, Fast Love, to the British singer George Michael who sadly died late last year. Just over a minute into the single piano note accompaniment that made for a haunting rendition the singer halts proceedings. Apologising profusely, she lets the world know that she wants to start over. The cameras switch between her obvious discomfort, embarrassment and frustration to the surprised and disconcerted faces of her peers in the audience and back again. It was hugely awkward and one can only imagine the chaos going on behind the scenes in the television control room, it was of course a live performance. It was also somewhat precocious of her, because she could have just continued on with the song and made sure the next note was what it was supposed to be (but what do I know?) Nevertheless, as the band obliged and she took it from the top, the audience supported by applauding and cheering her on to sing it the way she had intended.

What would motivate someone to make such a gesture and take action in that way? Adele was literally on a global platform, so there had to be a modicum of courage about the whole affair. However, the other drivers for this display may be useful and interesting to explore in relation to the Four Steps to Learning:

aka, The World of Knowledge

  • Unconscious incompetence, a new skill or talent where the awareness about how you do it is yet to develop.
  • Conscious competence, practicing what you know with an awareness of what and how much you need to know or do to achieve your desired outcome.
  • Conscious incompetence, knowing what you don’t know, i.e. what you will need to learn to improve.
  • Unconscious competence, is mastery. Automatically, doing what you know to do.


One of the lessons that I grew up with was to always stay true to yourself and never let what somebody else says distract you from your goals. And so when I hear about negative and false attacks, I really don’t invest any energy in them, because I know who I am.
~ Michelle Obama

Adele appeared to care deeply about how she represented George Michael’s work and wanted to do him and the song justice. There was a commitment to honouring his life to the best of her ability and in doing so, be true to herself about the respect she has for him as a fan who most likely grew up listening to his music and then for him as a peer or mentor as a singer and songwriter. The emotional connection to these competing commitments was clear and a strong driver in what made her take action in the way she did.

She also said that she didn’t want what happened to her last year to happen again this year. When we make mistakes in private or in public, we can sometimes give ourselves a hard time. That task you messed up on at work or client you lost and that had you unable to sleep at night and dread going into work the next day, let alone face your manager or colleague over it. Those feelings of guilt and frustration can be unbearable, where seeking to avoid a repeat of them becomes a kind of motivation. This is not the most favourable impetus for doing good work or being able to be proud of yourself, but it does have the power to change an outcome from a bad one to an excellent one. 

This was not this well established musician’s first appearance at an awards show. Far from it, she collected a total of five awards at this year’s Grammys one of which she broke in half. In a show of humility, perhaps somewhat overwrought, she described singer Beyonce’s latest album, Lemon as ‘monumental,’ stating that she thought it deserved the album of the year award she was on the stage to receive. With that she wanted to share the trophy with another one of her self-proclaimed idols. Consequently, Adele is well practiced as a musician and it would come naturally to her to know when a note was off and not up to the standard of which she knows she is capable. It was a conscious decision to stop the song knowing she had the competence to do better.

Adele is clearly a musician who has achieved mastery in her craft and has been well rewarded for it. Many others see that she is good at what she does as well. Unconscious competence can also be thought of as that which you don’t know, that you don’t know. Practicing what you do know and in some cases learning what you don’t know, opens up new opportunities where unknown possibilities become available to you. This space was destination for the other explicit and implicit drivers to show up and when these elements came together it resulted in Adele making the headlines for the right reasons and this is as well as the awards she took home. It was a risk, a calculated risk perhaps, because being at mastery with her craft she knew she could do better. At the end of the song, it was clear that her gamble had paid off. She was also a great example in being a stand for yourself and your life at all costs and that even in the most extreme circumstances where you feel you will be judged, criticised or ridiculed, you can start over.

Tim Ferris has made a career of studying the lives and achievements of successful people. There is much to learn by examining successful role models, business models or profiles, about our own skills and abilities and how we might move forward in fulfilling our goals. Awareness is key on many levels, because in a self-directed learning style the knowledge becomes embedded and we then perform at the level of mastery. Knowing your stuff allows you to surprise yourself and draw on aspects of yourself and your knowledge that already exist and are just waiting for the right time to be revealed. It’s where the magic happens.

Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason mastery demands all of a person. ~ Albert Einstein


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