Celebrating 200 Episodes — Mark Graban On Podcasting Mistakes And His Upcoming Book, “The Mistakes That Make Us”

Celebrating 200 Episodes — Mark Graban On Podcasting Mistakes And His Upcoming Book, “The Mistakes That Make Us”


Check out all episodes on the My Favorite Mistake main page.

My guest for Episode #200 of the My Favorite Mistake podcast is… me, Mark Graban. It's hard to believe that the podcast has reached 200 episodes. If you forgive me for the other episode (#16) where I talked about my own mistakes, that's 198 guests who have shared compelling “favorite mistake” stories with me.

In this episode, I'm joined by my guest host, Tom Ehrenfeld. He's the editor who is working with me on my upcoming book, The Mistakes That Make Us. He's also the host of the WLEI podcast from the Lean Enterprise Institute. Tom asks me about my reflections and lessons learned from hosting this podcast, including some of the mistakes I've made as a host and producer. We also discuss themes from my upcoming book about creating a culture of learning from mistakes.

Links and Topics:

  • Mark's Healthcare Kaizen book
  • KaiNexus
  • Donnis Todd and Dan Garrison episode
  • David Mayer episode
  • Mark's podcast mistakes:
    • Didn’t always properly prep guests – especially through a 3rd party PR
    • An experiment that didn’t pan out — recording via a web-based service
    • Naming mistake – My Favorite Mistake vs. Our Favorite Mistakes?
    • Almost lost some recordings (Ep. 16)
  • You can now sign up to get new episodes via email, to make sure you don't miss an episode.
  • This podcast is part of the Lean Communicators network.

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Celebrating 200 Episodes — Mark Graban On Podcasting Mistakes And His Upcoming Book

This is episode 200 of the series that started in September 2020. It’s a big round number. I thought we’d try to do something different to celebrate 200. As I’ve mentioned, I’m finishing a book on creating a culture of learning from mistakes. That book is titled The Mistakes That Make Us. I’m joined by my editor. He’s also been a host and a writer, and among other things, Tom Ehrenfeld. I’m going to turn it over to him. It’s your show and I’ll let you play the host. How are you, Tom?

I am great. Thank you, Mark. What an honor. This is fun. I am not Mark Graban. I’m speaking with Mark Graban, a well-known book author on Lean and many other topics. He’s a current client of mine. I am helping you as an editor on your new book, The Mistakes That Make Us. Diving a little bit into the substance of your ongoing show, give a sense of what the book is about.

The Mistakes That Make Us: How Getting Things Wrong Can Make It Right — For Leaders and Organizations

We’ve talked about this. Any title or combination of title and subtitle you could end up thinking that was a mistake. I feel good about the mistakes that make us at this point. Back to one of my previous books where the title was a mistake, the book called Healthcare Kaizen that I co-authored with Joe Swartz. It was a great book. Maybe for that audience in healthcare, the word kaizen might have been a barrier to people saying, “That’s something I want to read.” I don’t know how I would know for a fact that was a mistake. It’s just a hypothesis. If we had come up with a title that was maybe more continuous improvement because that’s what the word kaizen means, that might have been a mistake.

Without taking us down a digressive path, I’ve edited 25 books and I feel like titles are tough to nail down. They occupy a disproportional amount of time on the part of the author and the whole team. You struggle to find the right one. I don’t think there is an ideal one. The key thing is it has to do with what question you ask about it. This ties into the theme of your book. What are you trying to do with it? Titles should be evocative, elegant, and short, and indicate to the reader what the book’s about. Usually, business books have some aspirational qualities to present the promise of the book. One person I’ve been privileged to work with is a guy named Jim Collins. I edited some of his writing while I was at Inc.

Good To Great among other books.

Good To Great is the paradigmatically perfect business book title because it tells people you’re already good. It appeals to what they want to believe about themselves and often can. It tells them how you’re going to build on this state to greatness. He landed on something that had a huge innate promise, and then fulfilled the promise of that title by sharing all this stuff that tells you how to do it. That’s the title. Tell us where the book came from. What got you interested in it? Why did you stick with it? To keep piling on questions, what did you learn in the process of developing this stuff?

First off, back to your question about what the book is about. I decided this is a book about creating a culture in a workplace. The one subtitle I’m not as sold on yet is, “Building a Workplace Culture of Learning and Innovation.” There’s an aspiration there. It’s very positive. The tone of the show and the book, I’ve always tried to turn it into something positive to celebrate the learning, growth, and adjustments that we make after a mistake so we can either avoid repeating them or end up in a better place than we had been beforehand.

When I’ve asked everybody here, 199 people plus the ones I haven’t released yet, “What’s your favorite mistake?” it’s maybe a disarmingly positive framing, a favorite. It gives people pause. I always give them an opportunity to think in advance. I don’t think that’s a question that’s easy to answer if you’re put on the spot. Sometimes I have to gently correct people, and they’ll make the mistake of saying, “My biggest mistake,” and I’m like, “That’s a different question.” Sometimes a favorite mistake is a whopper or a big one. What’s your biggest mistake might evoke more sadness or regret, whereas a favorite mistake is a story with more of a positive spin. That’s what I’m trying to emphasize in the book.

What I like about that is it’s very forward-looking. It’s framing this question around favorite means learning something from it and something that adjusts your inner compass as you move forward. What I like about that perspective is it also doesn’t invalidate what you’ve done previously. In other words, when you say celebrate the positive, can you also say what you’re not doing? That seems a very countermeasure type of design in what you’re asking.

We’ll come back to your question about why I write the book. I’m going to throw a thought at you and the readers that seem obvious, but I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone explain to me the idea of we make a mistake. That’s only determined in some rearview mirror. If you do something or decide to keep the status quo, there are mistakes of action and inaction. Anywhere from half a second to five years later, or at some point in between, you discover the mistake or the mistake reveals itself.

The other thing that seems obvious, we wouldn’t have made that decision at the time had we known it was a mistake. If we did, we might call that self-sabotage or sabotaging our organization. It was a decision we thought was good, but then, we end up learning otherwise. People will say, “That was an unintended mistake.” That’s redundant language. It was unintended.

If it was an intentional act in a workplace, that might merit punishment. When it comes to mistakes, “honest mistakes” or human error, punishing ourselves or others doesn’t seem like a helpful path forward, instead of trying to learn, adjust, and move forward better. I love the stories of the guest, whether it was after the 1st time or sometimes the 2nd or the 3rd time. I don’t mean to be laughing at them, but this happens. I’ve done it. Sometimes the right lesson doesn’t reveal itself right away so that we can study and adjust. Sometimes we figure it out eventually.

When it comes to mistakes and “honest mistakes” or human error, punishing ourselves or others doesn't seem like a helpful path forward instead of trying to learn, adjust, and move forward better. Click To Tweet

In some ways, mistakes can be seen as unintended consequences of assumptions that get proved flawed through experience. I admire you have this generous outlook saying, “What did you do? What happened? How did you adjust?” The emphasis seems to be on what people learned or adjusted.

You and I have our influences from Toyota people, so I can’t help but bring it there and in the book, sometimes. This cultural norm and habit there, you hear it from so many different people at many different times. When there’s a mistake or something goes wrong, the question is, “What did you learn?”

To throw in one event, the Super Bowl was a few months ago, and there was this amazing post-game interview with Jalen Hurts, the quarterback for the Eagles. He was stoic, but his message was win or learn. He said, “We got to learn.” It’s loosely attached to his entire career.

I’ve been able to interview a couple of retired athletes on the show. They deal with “failure,” and that’s the word I don’t like as much as I like a mistake. They deal with winning and losing far more often. You have a bad play and made a mistake, but you’ve got to get right back out there for the next play. Maybe during halftime, you have the opportunity to reflect and figure out how you’re going to adjust or the coaches are helping you with that. You lose a game within a winning season. There’s more exposure to failures where there’s no choice, but to realize it’s going to happen so let’s learn.

To quote Yogi Berra, “Baseball is 90% mental. The other half is physical.”

There’s another Yogi Berra quote, “We made too many of the wrong mistakes.” It’s something like that, but again, redundant language. Back to this different unintended expectation and to my book, Healthcare Kaizen. I could look back at it and say, “I thought sales would be here. I thought the impact that it would have is up here.” The reality was disappointing that there was a gap. I don’t know why there was that gap. It could be a number of factors. Maybe the title wasn’t it.

At the Super Bowl, there was a different expectations gap. There was an expectation that this new type of grass they were using would be a perfect beautiful Super Bowl surface. It turned out to be a slippery nightmare that the commentators kept talking about, the fans couldn’t help but notice, and players were commenting and complaining about it. There was a gap in expectations. It’d be interesting to see how and where the NFL learns from that.

Bringing it back to a point from the book, one way that embracing mistakes helps us is to use small mistakes or small tests of change. This is back to Toyota thinking, again, and other realms of entrepreneurship. Small tests of change prevent a big embarrassing failure. It didn’t sound like the players were able to go and try that grass in those circumstances and in that stadium. It seems like that was a missed opportunity to have learned earlier and on a smaller scale, instead of having an embarrassing field surface for their biggest game of the year.

Speaking of Lean, like you, I’ve done a lot of writing and editing work with Lean. I’ve always been struck by a couple of foundational beliefs at Toyota and earnest lean organizations, which is the framing of a problem is generally done deliberately as a gap between the current state and the ideal state. In order to do that, you need to have an awareness of where you are and where you’re trying to go.

You then need to be very pragmatic in breaking that down further into ways to close the gap. With the book and how you view mistakes, I get the feeling that you’re asking people to unpack their maybe tacit assumptions about what they’re trying to do, what they’re ignoring, and how they are going about it. Tell us a few stories that come to mind.

As in mistakes I’ve made doing the show?

That would be fun, but I’m thinking more about guest stories that you think sparked revelations by you in terms of, “This person had a very productive processing of what they did.” I’m thinking about the grain alcohol or the people who were making whiskey.

It’s Garrison Brothers. Bourbon, not grain. A little mistake there, but it’s okay.

Bourbon is not whiskey?

Bourbon is a type of whiskey. Corn is a grain. When people think of grain alcohol, they think of Everclear. They’re not making that, but they’re making bourbon whiskey from corn. Two people from the Garrison Brothers came on the show together and their stories are in the book and they’re intertwined. Donnis Todd is the head distiller there. He told a story years ago and they’re still very much a startup distillery. They had products on the market, but they were still learning to deal with Texas heat. It’s a different climate than Kentucky and other places. Donnis talked about the culture he tries to create within his team of we’re going to own up to our mistakes.

With Donnis as the leader of that team, he sets the example that he can admit a mistake. He had this group of 100 barrels that he chose to age too long. He thought aging them longer would make them better. That will happen until it doesn’t. It’s possible to overage a bourbon and get too much barrel-oaky flavor. What happened to Donnis was letting it age into a hot Texas summer. Because of the extreme heat, there was more evaporation from the whiskey. It’s not that it was ruined, he had less of it.

It was a financial loss from rolling the dice and letting it age longer. I did the math and it was maybe a $300,000 mistake of what they could have brought in as revenue from selling the lost bottles. Dan Garrison, the Founder and CEO, didn’t fire and yell at Donnis. He said, “We were on the frontier of learning here.” Dan embraced the learning. It does start from the top though because then Dan Garrison is willing to share one of his stories of a mistake, and Dan owns it.

MFM S1:E200 | Podcasting Mistakes
Podcasting Mistakes: Own up to your mistakes and embrace the learning.

One thing that’s impressed me is owning the mistake and your actions instead of blaming others. There might be things that other people contributed, but you can’t control that. You own and control your behaviors. You thought something good would happen and then something not as good ended up as a result. You can learn from it. You try to figure out what went wrong, what the lesson is, and what adjustments you need to make.

I went back to Donnis’ episode. I love to ask people, “What did you learn from it?” He gave me it. He was telling this story. He was like, “Here’s the thing I learned,” and there’s a powerful sense of that in an organization. The focus is on learning instead of punishment. That sets a good example for everybody on Donnis’ team. If you’re pressured into hiding or covering up a problem, that could pop up in a bad way down the road.

Let’s say you thought something was maybe a little bit contaminated somehow coming off of the still, but you’re like, “I would get in trouble,” and you put it in a barrel anyway. A couple of years later, it’s rotten garbage down the road. You would’ve rather not used that expensive barrel of whiskey that you thought was suspect in some way.

It’s creating an environment where it’s psychologically safe. These smart and great people at Garrison Brothers are not throwing around high-minded lingo about psychological safety in their workplace, but they have it. You can tell when it’s there. You hear people describing that psychological safety where it’s safe to say, “I made a mistake.” That’s a very Toyota thing.

KaiNexus, the software company that I’ve been involved with for several years has that culture. There are different stories throughout the book that tries to help illustrate this. There are people reacting constructively to mistakes and focusing on learning. There’s such a default that people get exposed to. I got exposed early in my career that the right way to react to mistakes is getting angry, even in a subtle passive-aggressive way, or punish somebody. That only serves to push people. They get more creative and better at hiding their mistakes when we want them to channel that creativity into preventing future mistakes.

You’re saying that when a leader models this behavior of embracing the actual grounded experience and challenges people to articulate what they were thinking, that naturally frames the behavior in a learning type of perspective. It’s almost natural for someone who leads in a culture or operates in a culture where mistakes are shamed is going to lose the chance to better understand what people are seeking and adjust accordingly.

The flow of the book tries to take the reader through that. I struggle personally with not shaming myself and being kind to myself when I make mistakes. There is a necessary part of the journey where if a leader is not already in a place where they’re reliably doing that. It starts maybe admitting mistakes to yourself and being kind to yourself, and then maybe that helps build the opportunity to be kinder toward others when they make mistakes, whether it’s your colleagues, an employee, or your boss. Your boss might make a mistake.

There’s a little bit of that journey that goes from getting better at this personally. I’m still working at it, to then working toward creating a culture that’s built around this. Cherishing mistakes or embracing the people who make mistakes is a way of creating space for learning and improvement, and not repeating the same mistakes.

One of the stories from a guest, it’s a cautionary tale that I put in the book. It was Dr. David Mayer, an anesthesiologist. When he was a resident, a surgeon who was also a resident cut into the wrong side of a patient for a hernia surgery. The attending surgeon was out of the room at the time and then came in and noticed that the resident had cut into the wrong side. To me, that type of mistake in healthcare is such a major mistake we should be preventing. It didn’t kill the patient.

Error-proofing in advance or doing something to prevent it from happening.

Trying to prevent mistakes is key, but there’s also this lesson then of learning from the small mistakes and the near misses. Here’s an organization that may have had an opportunity to learn from, “We harmed the patient. It’s undeniable, but that shouldn’t have happened.” I would guarantee that there were many times when somebody almost cut into the wrong side of the patient and it got caught. More often than not, it’s covered up.

Trying to prevent mistakes is key, but there's also this lesson of learning from the small mistakes and the near misses. Click To Tweet

There’s no culture that encourages and makes it safe for people to admit, “We made a mistake, but it didn’t cause harm.” That’s the missed opportunity. That’s where having higher levels of psychological safety allows people to say, “We almost harmed the patient. That’s an opportunity for learning, problem-solving, and improvement to prevent harm.”

The other part of the story that Anesthesiologist David Mayer told that was powerful was the surgeon lied to the patient. That was more of an intentional choice. They lied and told the patient, “We found two hernias. It’s your lucky day. You got 2 for the price of 1.” When does healthcare ever give you 2 for the price of 1? That should make you suspicious.

In billing, they might bill twice as much.

Maybe they did. David was saying that he felt, in hindsight, bad that he didn’t speak up, but it wasn’t safe for him to do. It wasn’t even a matter of not feeling safe. This could have been professionally harmful to him, but what made it a favorite mistake for David was that it opened his eyes to this whole dynamic. It inspired, at this point, a pretty lengthy career of trying to help improve patient safety more broadly throughout healthcare. That means not making it safer for his patients, but that whole situation should have been prevented and it shouldn’t have happened. The positive that came out of it was the learning and the inspiration for him.

We still have a long way to go in healthcare because it’s not like that story from maybe several years ago is all in the rearview mirror. That thing is happening now because there’s that lack of psychological safety and the ability for people to both speak up, and then have effective problem-solving and mistake-proofing going forward. Stories like that illustrate the need for this, but then I try to follow up with, “Here are more positive stories from other organizations where you can picture how it could be different or better in those settings.”

You’ve mentioned psychological safety a few times. What does that mean?

There’s this discipline around what it means to have psychological safety in a workplace. Professor Amy Edmondson from Harvard or her research is most often cited. She would say she didn’t coin the term, but she popularized it. It’s a cause-and-effect relationship. Maybe statistically you can only say it’s a correlation, but the causation seems so clear that organizations with a higher level of psychological safety are more innovative, perform better, and have fewer errors. It’s the dynamic of when you feel safer speaking up about it, good things can happen as a result.

Amy Edmondson defines psychological safety as a culture or a workplace where people feel safe to speak up without the risk of being humiliated, punished, or ridiculed in some way. That includes the safety to ask questions. If you don’t feel safe to ask questions, that can lead to mistakes that are preventable. The safety to say, “I don’t know exactly how to do this. You told me a couple of months ago, but I don’t remember.” A lot of times people are pressured into, “Don’t admit you don’t know something.” She emphasizes strongly the ability to safely speak up and point out mistakes.

She conducted a lot of her research in healthcare settings.

There’s a famous study about Google where they looked across all the different parts of the company and you would call it a regression analysis of what’s the factor that stands out as different across different teams. It was the level of psychological safety. You could say, “It’s good that there was variation across the company.”

The level of psychological safety depends a lot on what leaders are doing. Are they modeling and rewarding vulnerable acts like saying, “I don’t know. I made a mistake?” If that had been uniform across Google, they couldn’t have identified that as a key variable. It’s a feeling and a perception of the higher level of psychological safety. It’s not yes and no. It’s a spectrum of how safe you feel to speak up as opposed to doing what you feel safe.

Let me shift gears from the general to the particular. In this case, you naturally share mistakes of your own down to such small details as learning to create a checklist before you do interviews. What prompted that?

For one, the recognition that certain mistakes are likely to happen. You can be a little bit proactive. I do write about this in the book. It’s funny I have a more formal checklist around webinars than I do for shows. I do have a checklist not for necessarily doing the interview, but for doing the production to make sure I don’t forget a certain step. I have a spreadsheet where for each episode, I fill out if I have completed certain things. Usually, those things end up on the checklist because I messed it up once.

You don’t have engineering in your background, do you?

Yes. I have two Engineering degrees, so I can’t help it. You are taught in a lot of ways to proactively think through the ways what mistakes are possible or “failure modes.” It’s a very engineering way of putting it to be proactive. At KaiNexus, we put together checklists of, “Here are things that could go wrong.” If you’re disciplined about it means you won’t forget to do a certain step. You then discover a new mistake that you hadn’t anticipated, and it can go onto the checklist.

An outside presenter guest thought the webinar was at 2:00 Eastern instead of 1:00 Eastern. A time zone mix-up is what caused that hour gap. We scrambled and called. They were home. Thankfully, they weren’t out at the store or out having lunch. We caught the mistake quickly enough to correct it. The webinar started on time, but then that led to a couple of things on the checklist. Thankfully, we already had the step of joining fifteen minutes early so you have time to troubleshoot anything gone wrong. We were proactive about that. That was good.

Thankfully, I had the phone number, but we added it to the checklist to make sure you have the presenter’s phone number. Now, we send through Zoom. We probably did this more manually before. Zoom webinars will generate an email with a calendar invite that adapts to the time zone. Sometimes technological changes can help prevent certain mistakes, but then sometimes procedurally through a checklist.

I feel like I’m trying to have it both ways here, but on the one hand, realized we’re all human and going to make mistakes. At the same time, we should try to prevent them. On the third side of that coin, when our prevention efforts fail, we need to react constructively. I don’t want anyone to get the impression that I’ll just shrug my shoulders and don’t care about performing well.

We're all human. We're going to make mistakes. At the same time, we should try to prevent them. But when our prevention efforts fail, we need to react constructively to them. Click To Tweet

Did you have instances where your guests weren’t properly prepared, you didn’t end up capturing the recording of the event, or interrupted in the midst of a presentation? If this happened, what happened and how did you respond?

Yes. This happened twice before it kicked in. I’m not blaming my guests for being unprepared, but realizing I needed to do a better job of preparing them. Try this at a party and drop this question on someone, “What’s your favorite mistake?” You need some time to think about that in advance. There were a couple of times when we started the interview and I realized they think they were showing up to a general business show where they were going to be asked the same questions that they always get asked, and going to tell their story that they always tell.

One time, I got through the whole interview before I realized that didn’t work. Not to blame them, but part of what happened was there was a PR firm in between me and the guest. Sometimes communication didn’t flow through to the guest. I didn’t check for that far enough in advance. It happened a second time and I called time out and pulled the plug sooner so as to not waste more of their time and say, “We didn’t prepare you for this. Let’s call a time-out. Let me give you some time to think about it. Let’s try the recording again later.”

What I then learned in terms of process and checklists is the pre-call that happens with a guest before the interview. I originally framed that as being very optional. I realized with the pre-call, me and the guest, I can test if they’ve been properly prepared. If not, then we have a conversation about the show and what it means, and this question of favorite mistake. “Does that still sound good to you? You got a week to think about it. We’ll be ready for the recording.”

I’ve had to draw a little bit harder line if the PR firm says, “The guest is too busy. I’ll do the pre-call with you.” “It is better if it’s the guest. I’m only asking for ten minutes of their time.” I have budged on that sometimes for certain guests. It was either do it their way or don’t have the guest, but I tried to be doubly sure to check that they know the question that I’m going to ask and if they have an answer ready. I haven’t had that mistake happen in probably a few years now because of some of the things I put in place. I then think back to my guests in the example they set. I can look at what I could do differently instead of blaming other people.

I feel like there’s this underlying takeaway, which is the most valuable mistakes are the ones that don’t happen. By having these small failures or mishaps, you’ve developed a countermeasure or this initial pre-talk. Since you’ve put it into play, you have not had these poor outcomes that were there. Something one stops thinking about is the benefit of not having these flawed outcomes recur.

MFM S1:E200 | Podcasting Mistakes
Podcasting Mistakes: By having these small failures, mishaps, or what have you, you develop a countermeasure.

I’ve been able to put other things in place. Back in episode sixteen of this series, Jamie Parker, who had been one of my early guests. We turned the tables because I had a near miss where I almost lost the recordings of seven different episodes. The long story short of it was, at the time I used a MacBook Pro and then iMac and Files would sync. I had the raw recordings on a portable external hard drive, the old type with the spinning disc. It’s always that drive is going to fail, but when. That drive only backed up to the cloud when it was plugged into the iMac. I had been gone and on the road, and the laptop died and crashed. It wasn’t backed up.

I tried following the lead of my guests. I own up to it, reached out to those guests, and said, “I’ve had a tech failure. It’s a hard drive crash. I’m going to have to rerecord it.” It turned out that with a $40 investment in some software, I was able to recover the files. The disc wasn’t completely dead. People were incredibly gracious and nice about, “That sucks, but these things happen. We’ll record again.” I’d have to go back and look at emails. Maybe it was a 7 for 7 yes rate on the question, “Could we do it again?” It turned out the recordings are okay, but I made a couple of changes.

This iMac was long in the tooth. I’m going to get rid of the iMac and have a monitor and a dock. Now, I’ve only got one computer, the MacBook Pro, regardless of where I am. Now, that issue of what computer is it plugged into so that it backs up properly is gone. I then also have some changes where I keep the recordings on that local drive, which is being backed up continually to iCloud. It’s going to time machine backups on an external drive, and it’s also backing up continually to a different cloud service called Backblaze. The universe would have to conspire against me for me to lose or almost lose files like that again.

Hearing you process this retroactively is that there are almost two modes. There’s how you process it emotionally and how you process it technically. Let’s consider you an engineer by training. You’ve now detailed ways to prevent this failure of losing the material from recurring.

One thing I’ve learned that I want to make a standard practice for myself and encourage others is when someone’s made a mistake, they already feel bad and that can be guaranteed, whether they feel safe to admit it or not. Before you jump into root cause analysis and countermeasures, at some point, you’re got to say, “Are you okay?”

As a leader in a culture to say, “That’s okay.”

Be reassuring and say, “I know you didn’t mean to do that.” Sometimes you got to give someone a little space to process that, but if you react constructively, they can move through that pretty quickly because you want to do that reactive problem-solving as soon as you can where it’s still fresh.

When someone makes a mistake, sometimes you've got to give them a little space to process that, but if you react constructively, they can move through that pretty quickly. You want to do that reactive problem-solving as soon as you can, while it's… Click To Tweet

It doesn’t happen that often. I do know that I’ve been in cultures where bosses treat you suspiciously if you make a mistake and don’t trust you. The bosses have to make things happen smoothly. It’s an impediment to them owning their own mistakes.

One other story that came to mind of mistakes that happen when you’re trying to do something that you think is an improvement or trying to be somewhat innovative. For a long time, I had been recording episodes through Zoom. The recording quality and everything is fine, but there are many systems out there that would purport to do better quality recordings. I thought, “Let me try one of those services.” I don’t want to name names. It was fine.

My first test of it worked great. I’m like, “The recording quality was better. It was more robust against little temporary internet hiccups because I recorded locally to each person’s computer and then, uploaded and merged it. Solving the problem of Zoom quality not being great caused a different problem at this point, September 2020, everybody knew how to join Zoom.

This other system required instructions, browser and tests, and a technical capability on the user’s part. There was that, but then there were some technical glitches from this other system where the quality of the recording was great, but the two tracks of me and the guest would get out of sync over time like over 40 minutes. That created an editing nightmare of trying to now get things to line up.

I don’t want to do that much work. I don’t want to pay someone to do that work. Maybe this technology’s not ready for prime time yet. I did a test and the gap between the expected outcome and the actual outcome was there. I don’t hate this other company. Their technology’s probably gotten better. I don’t hate myself that I tried doing something different. I went back to Zoom and it’s fine.

I read all of your books. If not all, most of them. There’s a thread of experimentation and improvement among them all. It feels to me like what you’re talking about is having this mindset of designing work as experiments, and then mindfully tracking. You have a book on the best way to use data. You have books on improvement. Again, this mindset of improvement and learning is the most important and salient takeaway from processing mistakes.

That’s a good summary. You see this in entrepreneurship circles where you think about forming a hypothesis and testing your assumptions. There’s a difference between saying, “I have this solution that I know is going to work,” as opposed to saying, “It seems like this is going to work, but let’s try it and see.” Let’s try it on a small scale. Let’s do that test of change. Let’s be open to the idea of I could be wrong. If I’m wrong, so be it. We learn something. It’s better than being stubborn and continuing down this path which could be a bigger mistake to not recognize a mistake early on and not being able to admit it for whatever reasons.

MFM S1:E200 | Podcasting Mistakes
Podcasting Mistakes: Let's be open to the idea that “I could be wrong, and if I'm wrong, so be it.” We learn something, and it's better than being stubborn and continuing down the wrong path.

If you look at that writ large, there are almost two ways to fund and grow startups. You take an ideated success, a company that looks great on paper, and throw in lots of venture capital or whatever money, and work like hell to make reality conform to what you’ve developed. I worked at Inc. Magazine of entrepreneurship, the vast majority of companies that populated the Inc. 500 were started by people who began with a need.

They were in a market or an industry and recognized what was needed and then filled it in. In the theory quarter principle, they put themselves in the quarter so they knew which door to open. They positioned themselves to be opportunistic and responsive to opportunities that they discovered through being in the game. It’s a sermon. We don’t want to go out too long.

A little bit of experimentation, even the beginning of this series was an experiment. I got my first guest lined up, Kevin Harrington. I thought, “If I’m going to interview him, I need to hope this becomes a series.” I could have taken the interview and published it in my Lean podcast that would’ve been the backup plan to not waste his time and help share his story.

All I had was a hypothesis. I could find other guests willing to share a story of a favorite mistake. The related hypothesis is that these stories would be compelling and interesting. It’d been like one of these job interviews where there’s the BS answer to the BS question of like, “What’s your greatest weakness?” and people would say, “I work too hard. I don’t take time for myself because I’m all work.” If people had told favorite mistake stories that were some versions of that, this might not have led to a compelling series. It has been compelling because people told vulnerable stories and I appreciate that. That sets a great example for others. Thankfully, that experiment turned out okay. I’m glad about that.

I love the phrase favorite mistake and I give credit to Sheryl Crow and her song, My Favorite Mistake. Each episode is about a guest saying, “Here’s my favorite mistake.” I didn’t think about this far enough in advance. It’s a search engine nightmare. If you search for My Favorite Mistake, you get Sheryl Crow’s song as you should. If you search My Favorite Mistake Podcast, you can find this little show.

Maybe if I had called the show Our Favorite Mistakes, some of that search engine confusion might not have been there. It’s still collectively, our favorite mistakes. There’s a question like, “Is it too late to make a change? I could be making a mistake and not making a change or making a change could be a mistake.” I don’t know.

As host, it’s my duty to remind people where to go. Where do people find the show? What’s the title of your book? Where can they purchase it when available?

You can subscribe and find the show in different locations. You can go to MyFavoriteMistakePodcast.com on the web or in any of the podcast directories. You probably have to type My Favorite Mistake Podcast if it’s Spotify, where they have music and podcasts altogether. The book is titled, The Mistakes That Make Us. People can go to MistakesBook.com is the place where they can sign up right now if they want updates on when the book is going to be available, or if they want to get some previews. If they’re interested in buying the book for when it’s going to be available, I’ll make sure people know how and where they can buy it. It’s going to be a paperback and eBook format.

They’ll be able to buy it in bulk because you’re expecting people to buy 100 or 200 out of the pub.

Do a book club. Buying one book is a small test of change. If you like it and it wasn’t a mistake, then you can contact me for a bulk purchase. My company is the publisher. I don’t like to say self-publishing. I’ve done that before. It’s not a mistake to do it again that way. I’ll leave it at that.

You’re publishing it independently.

That’s a good way of saying it. I have editors like Tom, cover designers, interior book layout people, copy editors, and proofreaders. It takes a village to bring a book to market, even if they make the mistake of calling it self-publishing.

Writing is a team sport.

Thanks for being part of the team.

It’s my pleasure. We made it without mentioning our favorite movie, Spinal Tap.

This is Spinal Tap is the movie. I’m going to be kind. The band is Spinal Tap. The movie This is Spinal Tap is my favorite movie. I know you love it. Is it your favorite or a favorite?

It’s in my top five.

My friend Don, who I’ve known since elementary school, is doing the cover design. He’s a professional artist. He loves the movie. In fact, he had the VHS tape of the movie. That was the first time I saw it. We still talk about it to this day. Tom and I are going to do a mini-series, either as a season within My Favorite Mistake or as a separate limited series. We are going to do a show about the mistakes made by the characters in the film, This is Spinal Tap. Tom has made the mistake of wandering off. What are you looking for?

I have the Voyager DVD of This is Spinal Tap, which was produced several years ago to play on your computer. I was going to hold that up.

Maybe I still own that, but there’s the whole universe of This is Spinal Tap with the deleted scenes and the commentary tracks. At least half the comedy is about the mistakes that are being made. We’re going to do a little series talking about some of those mistakes from the film, This is Spinal Tap. That’s a little teaser preview of that. I got to get the book manuscript done first. While we’re doing the marketing work around planning the book release, we’re doing this little side project. What’s one more show in the portfolio? It could be a mistake.

Maybe it’s just a limited series. We’re going to pull in Don and one of my guests who I haven’t released his episode yet, Ivan Boley. He is a professional musician and a bass player that loves and lived many of the types of things that have gone wrong in This is Spinal tap. He’s agreed to even come for an episode and talk about this movie we love and the mistakes that are made. They did learn from their mistakes. We’ll try to connect it back to the book and talk about the movie in a way that doesn’t get us sued. I don’t want to make that mistake.

Thank you, Mark. This is a lot of fun. We’ll talk again.

Thank you for doing this. Tell people about the show that you have been hosting.

I host a show that addresses Lean in adjacent areas. It’s produced by LEI, Lean Enterprise Institute. I’ve worked with them for several years. You can find episodes of it through the Lean website, Lean.org.

If people search for it in their podcast feed, it’s WLEI. Tom, thank you for doing this. Thank you to everybody for reading this. Since I was a guest in my own episode, thank you to the 198 guests who have come before me. I’m going to stop making mistakes so I can stop doing episodes about my own mistakes. How’s that?

Fair enough. That works.

It seems unrealistic.

That’s a solution.

Thank you for being a reader. Whether this is your first episode, if you’ve read every episode or someplace in between, I appreciate you taking the time to do this. If you are interested in learning more about my book, The Mistakes That Make Us, go to MistakesBook.com. Thank you, Tom Ehrenfeld, for leading the way in our conversation in this special episode 200.

As always, I want to thank you for reading. I hope this show inspires you to reflect on your own mistakes, and how you can learn from them or turn them into a positive. I’ve had readers tell me they started being more open and honest about mistakes in their work. They’re trying to create a workplace culture where it’s safe to speak up about problems because that leads to more improvement and better business results. If you have feedback or a story to share, you can email me at MyFavoriteMistakePodcast@Gmail.com. Again, our website is MyFavoriteMistakePodcast.com.

Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's upcoming book is The Mistakes That Make Us. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.