The first newspaper I worked for as a freshly minted journalist had a monthly bulletin that doled out kudos and critiques to the writers and editors. We would applaud our colleagues for snappy headlines, great writing, and beating the competition on a news story. We were invited to nominate the best news and feature articles, with the final winners chosen by a committee. It shined a light on the unsung heroes of the copy desk, publishing the mistakes they caught before our readers ever them, and helping us learn what not to do again. It also pointed out the mistakes that did get through, and areas that needed improvement. Everyone was encouraged to contribute.

One of the monthly “awards” I have learned to particularly appreciate over the years was called The Good Try that Didn’t Work.

Our editor, Max Jennings, believed passionately in helping us learn to take the initiative to try something different. Whether we were crafting a story, photographing a news event, or designing a page, Max didn’t want us to be afraid to butt our heads against perceived boundaries. And he wanted to make sure we celebrated attempts to push beyond our comfort zones, even when those attempts fell flat. One of his favorite sayings was, “If it ain’t broke, let’s break it so we can fix it.” It used to drive us crazy, and we used to tease him that his motto should be “Ready, Fire, Aim.” But his influence fostered one of the most dynamic, creative, passionate organizations I have ever worked in.

I was reminded of this when I saw that Seth Godin had released another book called Poke the Box. In a Q&A published on his Amazon book page, he says that conformity once was crucial to success, but compliance has become a killer in today’s competitive world. “We need to be nudged away from conformity and toward ingenuity. Even if we fail … we learn what not to do by experience and doing the new.”

So take the initiative to try something completely different. Maybe it will be a mistake. If it is, you will still have a reason to learn and celebrate.


Written by Maren and Jamie Showkeir

Owners of henning-showkeir & associates, inc., and co-authors of Authentic Conversations: Moving from Manipulation to Truth and Commitment.