by Ross Smith and Darla Barrett      

"Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure... than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat." ~ Theodore Roosevelt

"Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor." Truman Capote

We live an amazing time. The oops-ortunities are boundless – the excitement that technology, big data, globalization, machine intelligence, and a transcendence from the physical to the digital world brings to the future of the world of work is mind-blowing! Detailed algorithms, deep data science, meticulous measurement and rigorous analysis all feed the ongoing improvement of our online shopping experiences – delivering recommendations for things we never knew we wanted to buy or people we never knew we should meet.

As we focus on perfection, and as we surrender our human-ness and defer our decision-making to machines, I wanted to share the beauty of a new word I learned this week.

Oops-ortunity  N  \ˈu̇(ə)ps-ər-ˈtü-nə-tē, -ˈtyü-\ - an opportunity arising from a mistake

How many times have you made a mistake – perhaps a personnel mistake, an unfair or incorrect assessment of a colleague, underestimating the impact of a social channel or forgetting something important – that you look back in retrospect as one of the greatest mistakes you ever made! Perhaps you don’t admit to others that you were wrong and thought differently at the time – and maybe take credit for the final result.

This is an Oops-ortunity!

Here is Arianna Huffington https://youtu.be/Pb_eT1GKAgI  She makes a tremendous point, the difference between success and failure is perseverance. Hopefully, you work in an environment that doesn’t punish failure or “mixed” results – and if you do, work hard to create a culture that supports experimentation and learning.

Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval, in their book Grit To Great offer a tremendous tip, compliments of Mauricio Estrella – make your goal your password! In our modern world, we type passwords constantly, and Estrella, required to change his  each month had the incredible idea to leverage this modern practice to change his life. After a breakup, “Forgive@h3r”, then “Quit@smoking4ever.”  Brilliant!

Many of the world greatest treasures are the result of “oops” – almost every great artist, from DaVinci to Rembrandt to Picasso, would re-use their canvasses – to save expenses – the reason there are several paintings of Monet’s lily garden and we don’t know much of his Le déjeuner sur l'herbe – is because he had an oops-ortunity – he ran into friends and the Impressionist movement and changed the world with his contributions. Painted over old stuff and today, they sell for millions! Vincent Van Gogh allegedly sold just one painting, The Red Vineyard, for about $1000 while he was alive. In 2015, one of his landscape paintings sold for $54 million. A missed oops-ortunity!

In July 1974, Steven Spielberg was making the first Jaws movie when the mechanical shark(s) he commissioned failed to add the realism he wanted, the broke down in the salt water of Nantucket Sound. Rather than give up, he said, “I had no choice but to figure out how to tell the story without the shark” This oops-ortunity generated $60 million in the first month, was the first film to top $100 million and won an Academy Award and three Oscars, changing Hollywood forever. The oops-ortunity of a lifetime for 27-year-old Spielberg.

In 1905, an 11-year-old boy in San Francisco named Frank Epperson accidently left his powder flavored water with a stir stick in it out overnight. When he woke up, the frozen treat was the inspiration for the Epsicle Ice Pop, which he patented years later and sold eventually to the Good Humor Corporation. Known as the Popsicle today, more than 2 billion are consumed every year. A lollypop and icicle oops-ortunity!

As HR professionals, it’s up to you to help support failure, experimentation, learning, and growth to turn the “oops” into opportunity for your organizations. Find those folks who are failing fast and learning – who have the grit to continue forward in the face of obstacles - and support them, encouraging their managers to have patience with them and foster their ambition. Teach leaders not to be too hyper-critical of failure and to focus more on the lessons learned from the failure rather than the failure itself.

It’s all too famous that Edison failed so many times in search of the perfect filament.  We need organizations to embrace oops-ortunities!

How can you help?

  • Look for the positive deviants – those doing great work in spite of rewards
  • Support those who fail
  • Create forums for people to share their learnings
  • Remind managers of the importance of trust with regard to risk taking
  • Recruit those who took risks vs. played it safe – C students may be more capable than A students
  • Think out of the box yourself – it’s a brave new world and there’s no set formula for success



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