Posts Tagged ‘mistake bank’

David Brent (”The Office”) on training

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

Well, after his much-commented-on stint hosting the Golden Globe Awards last Sunday, Ricky Gervais perhaps is not the best role model I could have chosen for today’s post. Yet, let us hearken back to a time when Ricky, in addition to being a “slightly chubby but very kind comedian,” made fun of himself at least as much as the people around him.

I fell in love with the original version of “The Office” years ago. Gervais’ character, David Brent, was all our bad management practices and insecurities in one package, which made for hilarious yet uncomfortable viewing by any manager.

One episode that made me cringe out of self-recognition was “Training.” In this one, David hires a trainer to teach the company about customer service but undermines him by jumping up at every opportunity to (try to) demonstrate that he knows more about customer service than anyone at the company–more, even, than the trainer. While watching this, I had flashbacks to all the times I had jumped up to interrupt a trainer during a class or to demonstrate how much I knew about the subject at hand.

This is a smart-person problem. It was important to me to show I knew a lot. Or, perhaps, a “I think I’m smart but not sure I’m smart enough, so I have to demonstrate my smartness” problem. Or, if you’re David Brent, it’s a “I think I’m brilliant but I’m actually quite dumb,” in which case you have a comedy show.

The lesson I took from this was to see how this behavior looked to others. While I was trying to impress people, they were more interested in learning about the topic at hand. (Some folks probably wished they could have told me to sit down and shut up.) Jumping up to show how much you know is a manifestation of the Hermione Granger syndrome, which I’ll discuss in a future post.

For now, check out David Brent (Ricky) and make sure you don’t do what he does:

Mistake Bank Video Podcast #7 – Sue Pera on opening a second store

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Sue Pera and her husband Al own the Cornerstone Coffeehouse in Camp Hill, PA (where I live). Sue was very gracious to sit down and talk about an important mistake they made while considering expansion and what they learned from it.

Download: Sue Pera Mistake Bank Podcast (4:36)

To find other podcasts in this series, please visit

If you are an entrepreneur or know an entrepreneur who should be interviewed for this podcast series, please email me at john (at) caddellinsightgroup (dot) com. Thank you!

From the Mistake Bank: “The Power of Positive Failure”

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Mistake bank logoThere is enough of a chorus of ideas (such as this one from Nancy White referencing Chris Corrigan who points to Alexander Kjerulf) around learning from mistakes and failures that I feel we may be on the cusp of an actual movement here. Most recently, David Simms posted “The Power of Positive Failure” on the HBR Conversation blog.

Simms recounts an experience hosting a panel in which he asked the speakers to relate stories of failures they suffered through. He was amazed at how willing the panelists were to discuss their mistakes, and how much they had learned as a result. He also encourages readers to be more willing to share their own mistakes. I heartily agree.

By the way, when reading “The Power of Positive Failure,” be sure to read the comments. There are some great mistake stories there. And if you want to read/hear/see more mistake stories, visit The Mistake Bank’s temporary home (, which will bring up a set of posts from my work in gathering and learning from mistake stories. (You’ll find plenty of my own stories in there, believe me.)

Related Posts:
A Mistake Bank story from Don McFadden – due diligence in real estate

Mistake Bank Podcast #4 – Donald McFadden on Due Diligence in a Real-Estate Transaction

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

Continuing our look at successful entrepreneurs and the mistakes that shaped their careers. This video was part of the Mistake Bank Ning site, and I was reminded of it as we toured the city of Wilkes-Barre, PA, last weekend. My wife was driving, and from time to time she’d point to a building and say, “My dad owned that one.”

This story was from the beginning of my father-in-law’s real-estate investment career, and to me says a lot about due diligence. I’ve heard many entrepreneur mistake stories where inadequate due-diligence was at the heart of the issue. On the other hand, diving into a deal without having everything figured out, and then making it work, eventually brought these business owners to another level of success.

So: mistake or bold move? Discuss.

Don McFadden on Due Diligence in a Real Estate Transaction – a Mistake Bank story from John Caddell on Vimeo.

Prior Mistake Bank podcasts:
Tim Berry of Palo Alto Software
Charlie Crystle of Chilisoft
John Bliss of BlissPR

Mistake Bank Post: Don’t Let Them Skip The Employment Application

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Mistake bank logoIn our tradition of scouring the world for the best and most useful business mistake stories, I’m happy to present the following story from Human Resources expert Sharlyn Lauby. It first appeared in her blog HR Bartender. I’m grateful for her permission to reprint it here.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about anti-harassment training and mentioned the time that I read about one of my employees in the newspaper – specifically their alleged inappropriate conduct. There’s another piece of that story I wanted to share with you because I learned a very valuable lesson with the situation.

Everyone needs to complete an employment application. Everyone. No exceptions.

You see, the employee I read about in the newspaper hadn’t completed an employment application. Only submitted a resume. He was a friend and former colleague of a member of the leadership team. You know how this goes…senior level manager wants to hire a former employee from a past employer. They know the person so the manager comes to human resources and says they know the person, great guy, no need to fill out an application, yada yada yada.

And because HR is constantly being accused of creating unnecessary paperwork, I figured I was being a team player and just took the resume. Wrong-o.

Now, if I had an application, would that have changed whether or not we hired the person…who knows? What I do know is, if he had completed an application, I might have at least known about the situation before reading about it in the newspaper.

Having no application, both the senior manager and I were in the dark. That just delivered a gut punch like you wouldn’t believe.

You’re probably wondering about the outcome of this situation. Well, the senior manager met the employee in the parking lot and came to my office. (Note: if your manager ever meets you in the parking lot and says “let’s go to the director of human resources’ office”, this is not a good sign.) I asked the employee one question – “Have you seen today’s newspaper?” He immediately resigned.

The outcome could have been very different. But I learned an important lesson – employment applications are for everyone. It’s not beneath someone to complete an application. It doesn’t change a person’s title or responsibilities. Employment applications contain different information than is usually found on a resume.

Having employees complete employment applications is necessary. Do yourself a favor and don’t cut corners on this one.

You can find more Mistake Bank stories and thoughts about learning from mistakes here.

Mistake Bank Podcast #1 – John Bliss, founder of Bliss PR

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Mistake bank logoWelcome to the first in a series of podcasts in which we explore learning from mistakes with successful entrepreneurs. First up, John Bliss, founder of Bliss PR, discusses starting out working for the family business, then going out on his own, and what he learned along the way.

Download the John Bliss podcast


0:45 A brief history of Bliss PR
4:35 When you’re starting out, you’ll take any business you have
6:55 A mistake – sharing equity with a business partner
10:00 Another mistake – losing focus
12:20 A few hiring mistakes
15:30 Going downmarket in bad times
17:15 Learning from mistakes my dad made
19:40 “It’s a ‘we’ business”

(Thanks to John, and also to Elizabeth Sosnow for connecting us.)

(audio content copyright 2010 John Caddell)

It may be difficult to learn from failure, but it’s easy to learn from mistakes

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

I posted the following this morning as a comment to Michael Schrage’s HBR post entitled, “The Failure of Failure“:

Michael, you bring up some very provocative points in this piece.

One issue with disasters as learning events is that the deep level of focus on the exact sequence of events, while it performs a useful service (explaining the unexplainable & contributing to closure on behalf of victims & loved ones), is not that helpful for ongoing learning.

A disaster (brutal summary coming) is a chain of unlikely events occuring in sequence and causing a clearly terrible outcome.

The opposite scenario also occurs, with similar frequency–we call it a rousing success (exhibit A: Microsoft in the 1990s).

The issue with both scenarios with respect to learning is this: knowing the precise chain of actions & avoiding it (in the disaster case) or replicating it (in the MS case) actually obscures the much larger number of more basic lessons that help prevent failure or contribute to success.

For those reasons I prefer to look to mistakes rather than failures as learning situations. Mistakes are things people do that, upon reflection, they would do differently, given the chance.

Mistakes occur amid failure and success (& even in everyday plugging along). They don’t have the high profile of “failures,” yet the lessons can be more fundamental & useful. Mistake learning scales up & down–from ground level to the executive suite. And mistakes are ubiquitous. We all make them & can learn from them.

So, I’d propose this. Let’s shift the focus from learning from failure to learning from mistakes. We’ll all be a lot better off.

Related post:
Lessons learned from the Mistake Bank

Lessons Learned from the Mistake Bank

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Mistake bank logoI haven’t written much about The Mistake Bank in a little while, and I’ve put the project on hiatus. But Cynthia Kurtz convinced me that it would be good before stepping away from the project to recount some of what I’ve learned in the three years since I started working on it.

1. Mistake stories are inherently memorable – both for those who are involved and people hearing the stories. This story came so quickly to the teller that I almost didn’t finish the question before he started talking:

Find more videos like this on The Mistake Bank

2. Mistakes can lead people into successful situations they wouldn’t have encountered if they hadn’t made the mistake. My favorite story in this light is my father-in-law’s story about buying an apartment building without, in his mind, doing enough due diligence… and then spending the next several months dealing with the fallout. Of course, he ended up profiting from that apartment building for many years. And without that decision, he may never have taken the plunge. There are several stories like that on the site. All the protagonists are successful entrepreneurs.

Find more videos like this on The Mistake Bank

3. Stories are often viewed by others as not being mistakes at all. See above.

4. As time passes from the event itself, it’s easier to recount your mistakes. It’s not uncommon to encounter stories that are 20, 30, 40 years old. Like this one (blame the cameraman – me – for the poor video quality):

Find more videos like this on The Mistake Bank

5. People who share mistake stories are courageous people. This story from Sue Pera, who owns a coffeehouse near my home, struck me as particularly candid, and in a way illuminated why she is a such a successful businessperson:

Find more videos like this on The Mistake Bank

Finally I would say a word about what a narrative collection represents. Once the site got to thirty, forty, fifty stories, it began to exhibit, for me at least, something of the richness of a Cubist painting. By collecting a number of different styles of storytelling across many subjects yet all relating to mistakes, the site became a place where you could immerse yourself and gain a perspective on human imperfection and, in a way, grace.

What’s next for the Mistake Bank? Perhaps a company will take the plunge and set one of these up for themselves, as a way to capture lessons learned, the company’s history and culture.

Maybe there’s a book in it. There was for Royal Little.

[If you'd like an invitation to the Mistake Bank, email me at john (at) caddellinsightgroup (dot) com.]

Related posts:
On Royal Little’s “How to Lose $100,000,000 and Other Valuable Advice”
A collection of posts on the Mistake Bank

Scott Berkun reminds us of the value of learning from mistakes

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

You may remember my project The Mistake Bank. It’s on hiatus now (isn’t that what broken-up bands say?), and someday soon I’ll be putting up a post on what I learned from that project. (Thanking Cynthia Kurtz for that idea.)

In the meantime, people are still screwing up and, thankfully, learning from those experiences. Most recently there was this post from Scott Berkun: “My Biggest Mistakes.”

Scott, in addition to being a great speaker and blogger, is a first-class mistake learner. His post “How to Learn From Your Mistakes” was an early entry in the Mistake Bank. It’s gratifying to see that he still appreciates the value of reflecting on his past actions, and retains the sense of humor that allows him to do so.

Related post:
Scott Berkun on learning from mistakes

From the Mistake Bank: the players dissect the AOL-Time Warner failed merger, 10 years later

Monday, January 11th, 2010

Mistake bank logoI’ve learned, after working on the Mistake Bank for the past several years, that the most powerful lessons can be learned years after a mistake is made. This is especially true with a colossal failure. Only after much time has passed can the people involved shed their self-protective impulses and see clearly what happened.

There has been much written (for example here and here) about the 10th anniversary of the failed AOL-Time Warner merger (AOL again became an independent company in mid-December 2009). But nothing has been as compelling and rewarding to read as this New York Times article recounting the history of the merger from the viewpoints of the principal actors involved. Did you know that Gerald Levin and Steve Case first met at the 50th anniversary celebration of the People’s Republic of China? I didn’t either.

Once back in the States, Case began his pursuit:

MR. LEVIN We’re now back in the United States and I think Steve Case called me on the phone and in that conversation more than alluded to putting the companies together. I had my traditional script and quasi-legal background that when someone calls you on the phone, make sure they understand you’re not for sale, which we certainly weren’t, and decline any overture, which I did over the phone.

And the story goes on from there. It’s riveting, candid, and revealing, and a must read for anyone who is eager to do a big merger. It might make them stop and think a bit.