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May 26, 2022

Learning from Mistakes

The Key Ingredient in the Recipe for Success

Mistakes are part of learning and growing. We all have a mistake in our near or distant memory that horrified us (at the time). Maybe we’d rather forget about it – but the truth is once we get past the horror we can usually learn valuable lessons to apply to our careers, and personal lives, going forward.  

Here is a mistake I learned from: 

Back in 2011, I was working on the PR team of a public multinational company on a world tour in celebration of the company’s major milestone anniversary. My responsibilities included everything from drafting press releases for each event to liaising with the event staff regarding celebrity greenroom requirements and working with production to ensure final speeches (and not prior drafts) were loaded into the teleprompter at the last minute. However, the piece (pun intended!) of my job that wound up causing the most drama, was the cake.  

For each event, I was solely responsible for finding a local baker to make a cake that the celebratory host/musical guest and CEO would pose behind for the all-important photos released to media. I researched local bakeries, made sure they had good reputations and experience with cakes that could take center stage – literally. I had to clearly articulate the need and make decisions from hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of miles away about who to hire, why, and what the cake should be. We wanted unique cakes, not the same cake each time.  

I’m not a baker, or a designer. I didn’t enjoy talking about colors or flavors or tiers. I was much more comfortable in my world of Word and Excel. Selecting my own wedding cake years prior was a non-event for me. I picked our wedding cake out of a book, without even doing a tasting. This was not my jam (pun intended, again). I left the baker in charge and looked forward to seeing the cake at the event. 

It wasn’t until the first cake was rolled onto center stage that I recognized the enormity of the task – it’s overall relevance. A picture is worth a thousand words as we all know, and the cake was the visual embodiment of the event. When the photo of the very A-list actress and CEO with the cake hit newswires, magazines and websites around the world, it would tell people immediately that this VIP was celebrating our company, because our company was relevant.   

To the horror of all in the room (no one more so than me), the cake was lopsided. The font was wrong, the colors were wrong, the whole cake was wrong. Everyone on the event team had a comment about the cake. I truly thought I might be fired over this ugly cake -- all the other work I had done for the event no longer mattered. At that moment, it was all about the cake.  

From then on, for every other event, I worked hand-in-hand with the bakeries, ensuring they used the correct logo, fonts and colors.  

At each event, I held my breath as the box was opened, praying that it wouldn’t be another disaster. I’m happy to say there was no repeat of the incident on my watch. 

The lesson I learned is that even if you are not passionate about a particular aspect of a project, you have to understand its role in the overall initiative and give that task the same level of care you would anything else.  

Almost every year, without fail, a former colleague will post a photo of one of the events on social media and inevitably someone will tag me and say “remember that first cake, what a disaster!” It was a disaster, and I can laugh about it now, but it always reminds me not to skip over any details, even on something as trivial as a dessert for an event. For me, picking out a cake will never again be a piece of cake.  

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