Just because you’re old and a leader don’t make you Moses

From Michael Mark, Creative Director/CEO at NYCA

I make more mistakes than anyone at NYCA. Probably why I wrote in the “Seeds” booklet that it’s not only okay but it’s mandatory to make Big mistakes. I figured that was a liberating sentiment, show I wasn’t a tyrant and it would double as my oft-needed loophole.

Well, that was another mistake.

“Seeds,” I should tell you, is a booklet I wrote, which each employee gets when they seedsbook_01become an official NYCAer. It’s 64 tidbits on how to excel, how to grow! Common sense like “spend the clients’ money as if it were your own” and ‘Do as you say, integrity is better than pie.” (We do like our pie at NYCA). Short, pithy – nothing heavy, based on the Ten Commandments but with a bit of contemporary sass. The mistake-oriented one went like this:

“Fail every day. Make mistakes. Big ones. Just learn from each one. If you didn’t make a mistake today, you either didn’t recognize it or you didn’t try something new. Better luck at failing tomorrow.”

Catchy, I thought.

Well, at one of our agency meetings in the Grove (we have a grove, we write about seeds, we live in a grow! culture), some newbie called me on it.
“Hey, Michael, I was reading ‘Seeds’ and I want to overachieve here.”
“Way to go!” I said, all rosy and proud.” She continued, “And I came across that make big mistakes Seed and I was thinking, ‘wow – I can do that!’ So how big do you want that mistake to be?”


I couldn’t hear if there was a laugh or a gasp from the group as I went into full -bore self protection mode.

“Yeah so well come-on you know like I guess in all seriousness I, we, no one really wants, you know, wow, um to make big mistakes. Are you talking like backing your car into the conference room during a strategy session? No, don’t do that. Don’t misspell the client’s name in any ads, yeah, that would be big but no just don’t. And don’t not pay vendor partners on time. No, big mistakes upset clients, big mistakes lose business, big ones cause the work to be less effective, big ones cost money.”

Now at the same time I also was thinking: “But this is my beloved (to me only, I am sure) “Seeds” book. You can’t challenge the “Seeds” book! That’s like saying the foundation of the agency was faulty.

And she was right. I had made a big mistake.

As a leader, you want to inspire with big, moving statements. You want to lift the team to do more than they ever thought was possible. That takes risk and daring and you can expect failures to froth over. I wanted to tell them to go to the edge – not push the agency over it.

So I went too far. And clearly I was busted.

So right on the spot we all wrote a new Seed together. And it’s better. And it’s not mine anymore – it’s ours and that’s much better.

So now the seed reads:

“Mistakes are not failures, if you learn from them. It’s all part of pushing yourself and your work in uncharted directions. So, when reaching out, remember to be both brave and careful. And should you stumble – look in your hand – you might find the seeds of a juicy grow idea!”

seedsbook_02And we all pasted it in our Seeds books – awkward and unprofessional and real so it looks like there was a mistake that caused this and no big deal we fixed it. And importantly we didn’t try to cover up. Instead, we celebrated it to remind us it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s even ok to make Big ones. Just don’t try to make Big ones is what I learned that day from my team.

Who needs loopholes with people like that?

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