The Angry Possum Incident: a risk-taking fail

Last time we met, I implored you to take a damn risk already.  This statement is all well and good for me, while I sit safely away from the consequences of your potential failures.  But I can assure you, I’ve made my fair share of mistakes too.  Possibly more than my fair share.  I’m encouraging you to take some calculated risks anyway.

Here’s a story for you.  Five years ago, the organization I work for had a pretty limited online presence.  One of my favorite projects has been the challenging work of expanding that presence with exactly zero extra budget.  (I really mean that – I love leveraging limited resources, which makes me a great fit for the non-profit world as well as a stellar shopping buddy.)  A little over two years ago, I managed to convince the necessary people that our organization should start an email newsletter.  It sounds small, but it was a bit of a perceived risk for us.  By providing extra information to a wider audience, rather than having our audience come to us, we were opening ourselves up to more public criticism.  Yet, we valued (and continue to value) transparency, and wanted to act in accordance with that.

I was grateful and excited when I got the approval to move forward.  With a great deal of enthusiasm, I drafted a template for our very first newsletter and sent it around the office.  After everyone agreed on the look, I filled it with some content on recent happenings in the organization and sent it around again.  I had two people proofread it.  I sent it to our email list.  Then, I got up and walked away.  If you’ve ever sent a marketing email and obsessively hit “refresh” on the analytics, you’ll understand why I left my desk.

Upon my return, I was pleased to see a high open rate and tons of clickthroughs.  Success!  I noticed that our readers were clicking on one link in particular – what was supposed to be a link to a post on our organization’s blog.  And then I realized that the link didn’t look familiar.  In fact, it was a link to an image.  More specifically, it was a link to this image.

Angry Possum

Scariest cat in the world.

I’ll let you guess what came out of my mouth next.  (Hint: It was very creative and would not be welcome language around the Thanksgiving dinner table.)  It was a minor mistake, but it was a pretty mortifying one for my kickoff newsletter.  What a first impression.  I resisted the urge to crawl under my desk, freaked out to a few friends on Gchat (they all laughed at both me and the possum), sent another email with “updated links,” and carried on with my day.

This was hardly my greatest professional failure, but it’s indicative of the types of mistakes you make when you’re trying new things.  I learned a lot from the Angry Possum Incident.  I learned that multitasking while copying links is not a great idea.  I learned that you have to specify if you want your proofreaders to double-check your links.  I learned that a LOT of people will click on a link to a blog post, find an angry possum in its place, and not bother to tell you about it – so you have to pay attention to your stuff even after it’s been disseminated.  And with all this learning, I got to start something new.  Over two years after the Incident, the newsletter is a popular endeavor.  The public criticism we were concerned about never happened.  Nobody talks about the possum, and the readers get surprisingly jazzed about a relatively dry newsletter on a pretty specific topic.  Why?  Because no one else is doing it.

This all points back to my original request that you take a damn risk already.  You might look stupid sometimes, but you’ll learn things that no one would think to tell you about.  You’ll get smarter faster.  You’ll set yourself apart from the other guys.  And you’ll get to feel like a badass.

Next up, I’ll tell you how to convince people to let you take those risks.  Catch you on the flip side.

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3 thoughts on “The Angry Possum Incident: a risk-taking fail

  1. Case in point: Now that this post has been published, I have discovered that possums live in the Eastern Hemisphere, and opossums live in the Western Hemisphere. The more you know.

    Or, maybe I made the mistake on purpose just to let you all know it’s okay not to be perfect. Yeah, let’s go with that.

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