BOW Thought: Accidents Happen

Why that's a good thing...

I lied. I got one more in me this weekend.

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BOW thought

Accidents happen. Though no philosopher, Stephen A. Smith recently said something that I can’t stop thinking about.

If you’re unfamiliar with Stephen A., he’s an over-the-top basketball talking head on ESPN, famous for his (mostly inconsequential) sports debates.

On a recent episode of the Bill Simmons podcast, he said he never loses.

In every debate, he said “I win, or I learn.”

Clients often expect us to say we’ve lost. We were wrong about that insight, or creative idea, or media execution. They want to know what didn’t work.

I believe self-awareness and ownership is important. Too many campaign reports fluff up the narrative with everything that has gone well, while ignoring the obvious blind spots that need to be addressed for the next one.

They also want to know “why” something didn’t work. The learning. What are we going to do to ensure it doesn’t happen again next time?

But sometimes - we don’t really know why.

Sure, we have measurement. But often times its inconclusive or incomplete. And other times, success or failure is merely the result of an accident.

Take yesterday for example. I took my dad, sister, and brother-in-law on a Jewish pilgrimage to the Upper West Side’s Barney Greengrass. Everyone enjoyed, but my order came out wrong.

Here’s the thing: the incorrect order was way better than my original one. It’ll probably be my new go-to.

Later in the day, we were supposed to see Oppenheimer. Except I bought the tickets for the wrong day. Day ruined.

With both accidents, there was something to learn. In the first, I need to be more imaginative - scan the menu more for something I really want. In the second, I need to be more considerate - double check that I haven’t fucked up, don’t do something important when I’m tired, etc.

But if accidents don’t happen, I wouldn’t have won in the first one, or learned in both.

A recent breakthrough is apparently happening with superconductors. As discussed on the All In podcast, the breakthrough apparently was the culmination of a lab accident that opened the scientists eyes to a new possibility.

On one end of the spectrum there is science. On the other end there is Grimace. Grimace was a TikTok hit. The McDonald’s team had no idea this would happen. It was an accident.

Sahil Bloom talks a lot on Twitter (X?) about how it’s not that people get lucky. People that work hard just have a larger “luck surface area.” Lucky things happen to them, but only because they expand their likelihood of getting lucky. They write, they build, they interact with the world, they surround themselves with optimists vs. pessimists.

Happy accidents happen to them, but only because they are putting themselves in the best positions to grab them when they come. Because they are putting out good energy, creative thinking, and hard work into the world.

They put themselves in a position for luck to strike them like lightning.

David Ogilvy referred to marketing people as “natural slowpokes.” We are scared of making mistakes, because of the mistakes made by those before us who then manage and influence us. It makes us risk averse, when we are supposed to be risk positive.

This thinking is not unfounded; like I said earlier, we are all at the mercy of people, stakeholders, clients, etc. who point fingers during “losses.” There are often repercussions.

But at the end of the day, accidents happen. And accidents are good. The best way to approach any client or campaign is to increase its “luck surface area.” To have a strong string of ideas ushering out of the campaign. To be thoughtful, rational, yet creative as possible, and put enough big thinking into the world so that accidents can happen.

At the end of the day, you’ll have an unexplainable win to report back to your clients. Or, you’ll just learn.

Stay thinkin,