Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A former CFO makes a deal on a handshake - and pays the price

Another story from Adam Bryant's Corner Office series. Bryant's new book is called Quick and Nimble: Lessons from Leading CEOs on How to Create a Culture of Innovation. This story is from Noreen Beaman, CEO of Brinker Capital.

I was about 35 and Brinker’s C.F.O., but I went into sales to get that experience. And I went out and I made a deal on a handshake. Because I was C.F.O. and had been so careful for the 10 years before, the people I worked for thought, “She’ll never do anything foolish.” So of course I did. I closed a big deal on a handshake, and it blew up. I should have been fired.

I lost all my political capital at Brinker. I had been there for more than 12 years, and now I was in the penalty box. But I worked really hard at sales and became the No. 1 salesperson — only because I worked hard, not because I’m a natural salesperson. I had to really dig in and do something I wasn’t good at.

But it made me more accessible to people I worked with. They still joke about it today, though it was 20 years ago. They’ll say, “Oh, remember when you did that?” And I’ll say, “Yes, I remember when I did that.” It made me have more humility.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Amazing Race is all about "mistakes and miscalculations"

This whole race is a comedy of errors... and [winning requires] accepting each others' errors and making up for them later.

Chip & Reichen, outside an airport in India, on The Amazing Race season 4, which they eventually won.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Grantland editor acknowledges serious mistakes with transgender story, apologizes

Last week, the sports site Grantland (an excellent site with great writing, by the way) posted a long piece by reporter Caleb Hannan on his search for Dr. V., the mysterious creator of a new-fangled golf putter. The reporter located the inventor and then, to his surprise, discovered that the inventor was a female who had been born male. This added many new layers to the story, including the author outing Dr. V. to one of her investors. Last October, Dr. V. committed suicide.

Reaction to the contents of the piece and the decision to publish it was swift and cutting. (Here's Maria Dahvana Headley, someone quoted in the Mistake Bank book, with a cogent analysis.) Grantland itself, after a few days, ran an essay from Christina Kahrl, an espn.com contributor who is also a director of GLAAD. (ESPN is the parent company of Grantland.) Finally, Bill Simmons, the site's creator and editor-in-chief, discussed Hannan's article and the decisions around publishing it. Simmons acknowledges significant mistakes and apologizes for running the article.

I was originally planning to discuss Simmons' apology in detail as a lesson on decisionmaking, reflection, and atonement. On further reflection, I've concluded that any lessons learned from this mistake, no matter how useful, are trivial compared the life of Dr. V. Our deepest condolences to her family and friends.

New manager learns he needs to let his team communicate

From the Corner Office interview of Girish Novani of eClinicalWorks, in the New York Times. Adam Bryant, who writes the Corner Office columns, has a new book based on that work: Quick and Nimble: Lessons from Leading CEOs on How to Create a Culture of Innovation.

My first role was at Fidelity Investments. I was 27. I had this team of five people, and every one of them went to my boss and told him that I was terrible because I had stifled them from talking to others, and that I only wanted them to tell me what was going on. One person said, “We can’t be on his team.”

I changed pretty much overnight. If people felt that they couldn’t really maneuver as easily as they did before I was a team leader, then I wasn’t doing my job. A team leader should be a coach.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Author Gary Shteyngart learns a hard lesson about the American culture

Gary Shteyngart, acclaimed author of books such as Absurdistan and Super Sad True Love Story, has just published a memoir with the delightful title Little Failure (the cover picture is perfect). This story from the book discusses his family's encounter with an American tradition soon after their immigration to the US from the Soviet Union in 1979, when the author was seven years old.

An official letter arrives in our mailbox. MR. S. SHITGART, YOU HAVE ALREADY WON $10,000,000.00!!! Sure, our last name is misspelled rather cruelly, but cardstock this thick does not lie, and the letter is from a major American publisher, to wit the Publishers Clearing House. I open the letter with shaking hands, and...a check falls out. 
Our lives are about to change. I run down the stairs to the courtyard of our apartment complex. "Mama, Papa, we won! We won! My millionery!" We are millionaires!"
"Uspokoisya," my father says. Calm down. "Do you want an asthma attack?" But he is nervous and excited himself. Tak, tak. Let us see what we have here....
We sit down and, using our collective four-hundred-word English vocabulary, begin to unravel the many documents before us. If we take the ten-million-dollar check to the bank tomorrow, how long before we can buy a new air conditioner? Wait it says here that... Yes, we have already won the ten million dollars, no disputing that, but a panel of judges still has to award the money to us. First we must fill out the winner's form and select five national magazines that will be sent to us free, or at least the first issue of each will be free, and then the Americans will likely send us the rest of the money. Fair enough.... 
We sign everywhere we need to, even places we probably don't need to. We sign the fucking envelope. "Write neater!" Mama shouts at Papa. "No one can understand your signature!" "Calm yourself, calm yourself." "Get the stamps!" "Wait with your stamps already, what does it say. No postadzh necessary." The Publishers Clearing House has even taken care of that little detail. Classy. ...
We find out the truth quickly and brutally. At their respective workplaces, my parents are told that the Publishers Clearing House regularly sends out the YOU HAVE ALREADY WON TEN MILLION DOLLARS missive and that these are routinely thrown in the trash by the savvy native-born. Depression settles over our nonmillionaire shoulders. In Russia the government was constantly telling us lies - wheat harvest is up, Uzbek baby goats give milk at an all-time high, Soviet crickets sing the "Internationale" in honor of Brezhnev visit to local hayfield - but we cannot imagine that they would lie to our faces like that here in America, the land of the This and the home of the That.

Remember, 2014 is Story Year on the Mistake Bank! If you have a story you'd consider sharing, email us at mistakebank (at) caddellinsightgroup (dot) com and let us know.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Taking care of visitors - a sales mistake

Many years ago, I worked on a proposal to sell an information security system to Hong Kong Telecom. I worked for a very large company and the proposal was a joint effort of our Hong Kong team and our telecom experts in the US (I was part of the US team).

After submitting the proposal, we learned that the HKT procurement team would be visiting the finalists for a site visit and product demonstration. We let the team know they should rent a car at Boston Logan Airport, and gave them directions to where our office was. We had a very nice presentation, served a sandwich lunch, and they left.

Within a few days, we learned HKT had eliminated us from contention.

That seemed to be the end of it. But some weeks later, we had a call with one of our internal security leaders. He talked to us about our proposal and solution. It turned out he knew the key executive at HKT because they served on an international security committee together. Soon thereafter, we learned that we had another chance at the business, and were invited to spend a day presenting to the company at their Hong Kong offices.

In Hong Kong, we were met at the airport, driven to our hotel, and our entire week of meals, shopping, etc., had been planned. I had never been treated with such care by strangers before. Our presentation day went flawlessly, and we learned that the executive had invited our whole team to dinner at his club that night.

At dinner, we laughed and drank and ate amazing food. Sometime during the night, he asked me, "Do you know why you were eliminated from contention?"


"How have you been treated since you've been in Hong Kong?"

And I told him.

"When we came to visit you in Boston, you didn't even arrange our transportation. We had to rent a car and find your office outside town. Do you know we don't even drive here? We were so upset after that visit that we didn't think your company was suitable to supply us with anything. Luckily, your colleague" - the security guy, who was also at the dinner - "called me and asked if we could give you another chance to prove yourself. And so you did. You will be getting the business."

We did not view the HKT team's visit from their perspective, but from ours. For us, renting a car at Logan Airport and driving to Waltham was no problem. We also didn't understand that other countries took hosting visitors very seriously, much moreso than we did in the US. The visit to Hong Kong taught us that. From then on, when customers have shown us the courtesy to pay us a visit at our home office, I've made sure they are taken well care of, as I was all those years ago.

Monday, January 6, 2014

2014 - Story year

Hi, all,

We've been at this effort since 2007. There are more than 500 posts, roughly half stories and the rest on why embracing mistakes and failure is good for you and your business. This year, I am focusing on gathering more stories. There are lots of great stories out there from entrepreneurs and CEOs - but many fewer from customer service reps, programmers, nurses, managers, teachers, students, etc. In other words, ordinary folks. I would like to take this year and focus on gathering and sharing as many mistake stories as possible from this quieter group. I believe their stories have as much or more to teach us than any from Steve Jobs, Steve Martin or AG Lafley. But we won't know till we collect them.

So... if you have a story you'd like to share, anonymously or otherwise, or you know someone with a great story, please contact us at mistakebank (at) caddellinsightgroup (dot) com. I'm hoping to have at least one story a week to share. Join the effort to learn from mistakes!

This week... I'll share one of my stories.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Managing mistakes in business first means acknowledging they happen

Josh Patrick writes this in the New York Times blog You're the Boss:

Allowing mistakes requires that you trust your employees. You must trust that they are doing the best they can — that they aren’t trying to make mistakes. But here’s the thing: If you don’t allow mistakes, they will happen anyway. They’ll just get swept under the rug. When they are discovered, they have often become much larger problems. 
In larger companies, mistakes rarely put the company at risk. In smaller companies, they can be death blows. That’s why some owners overreact when a mistake happens, which was my inclination when I first started in business. Whenever a mistake was made, I would start screaming at whoever had made it — unless, of course, I had made it. In that case, I would pretend the mistake had never happened. It wasn’t until I learned to accept mistakes and start learning from them that our business started to grow.
 Mistakes will happen anyway. It seens obvious, but very few of us are able to recognize this and act accordingly. Recognizing they will happen anyway is the first premise of building a mistake-learning culture.