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Mistake of the Month Club
By Bob Bapes   Printer Friendly Version

Last month's newsletter was about failure and its importance in the creative process. Remember, fail early, fail often, fail cheap and fail forward.

As I was presenting this thought to at a recent seminar, I remembered a celebration of failure that we used when I was at Keebler Cookies and Crackers.

We were an aggressive group of marketers without a lot of money. As a result, we were always trying something different, weird, cutting edge or outlandish in developing, promoting and advertising cookies and crackers. In other words we were always pushing the envelope in hopes of finding something new and inexpensive that would work in delivering higher sales.

Some of the ideas worked and many did not. In order to keep us focused on innovation and to make it ok to keep trying, we began celebrating our failures. We presented a traveling statue to the person who messed up the best the previous week. The statue represented a man bent over at the waist with his head someplace anatomically impossible to get to (if you catch my drift). The statue then sat on the "winner's" desk until the next week when that person got to choose who messed up best during the week and received the award. We made a big production out of it, with all of us parading into the winner's office to make the presentation.

The point we made is that it is ok to fail as long as the error is one of action, not inaction and that we learned from it.

We now have fruit of the month club, beer of the month club, panty of the month club. If you want to encourage creativity in your organization, I insist you start a "Mistake of the Month Club." Get together with your team on a monthly basis. List the mistakes you've made on a white board. Vote for the mistake we learned the most from. Develop a fun reward for it.

Go for it folks. Mistake of the Month Club can be just what you need to get your team to take the risks necessary to reach breakthrough ideas.

Announcing the No Wrong Way Newsletter, Mistake of the Month Club. Email me your business or personal blunders that turned out to be great learning experiences and I'll publish them.

As a reward, the one I judge to be the "Mistake of the Month" will receive a free copy of my book, IdeaDoc's Rx for Creativity. Additionally, I'll immortalize you on my web site, which will have a list of Mistake of the Month Club winners.

I just completed a three-week speaking tour of UK. This is my second time for a three- week swing through the country that we have so much in common with and yet are so different.

One point that became glaringly obvious was the need to tailor your product to the client. The first trip I was less skilled at making adjustments to my material and especially my presentation style. This time, I made adjustments that made all the difference in the world in terms of my effectiveness.

The British (as well as Scots and Irish) are extremely polite and therefore have great difficulty openly challenging anything a speaker says.

Last year I was talking to the audience about celebrating small victories and good works in order to keep the team inspired and focused on doing great work. My method of accomplishing this is to pump your fist repeatedly yelling "Yes" with great enthusiasm. I took the candidates through an exercise to practice this method. At the break, a woman candidate spoke with me privately and said if anyone did that "to me, (not for me) I'd slap him!" I began to see that what works in the US is not necessarily what works elsewhere and that I'd have to develop some alternative ways to celebrate.

In a similar vein, I recommended getting team members profiled or written about in newsletters or better yet, newspapers. I was informed this would be highly insulting and absolutely unacceptable because only "ax murders and cereal rapists" get written about in newspapers.

The point of these stories isn't to point out my cultural insensitivity (although that might be a good thing to do). Rather it is to always ask questions in order to diagnose before making any prescriptions. We all need to consider where our customers are starting from before we tell them what they require.

This trip I began to speak with intensity, but a lower level of enthusiasm than here in the States. Then as the candidates got used to my speaking style, I raised the enthusiasm when I felt they were ready for it. I was more effective this year as witnessed by the improved evaluation scores from the participants.

The bottom line lesson is that we have to listen to clues (some subtle, some not) that our customers are giving in order to deliver our good or service in an effective way.

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