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  • Writer's pictureTeresa George

Making Money Out Of Messes

Do you want to get better at making money out of messes? How can you give the mess in your company a total makeover? What about transforming that personal mistake into your biggest success?

With a little shift in perspective, you can even profit from your messes.

First, let me clarify one thing. I’m not talking about the person at the office who makes chaos

and then heroically swoops in to “fix” the problem he or she created. Colleagues who have

worked there more than a few months are wise to that game. I’m talking about looking at

messes and seeing real potential.

Let me give you a couple of examples of people who did just that.

Two Nashville moms – Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin - were looking for more fulfillment and took “the only thing they knew how to do,” which was tidying up messes around the house, and turned that into a huge Instagram following (theHomeEdit), a TV show called Master the Mess and a business that caterers to average and celebrity mess-makers like Gwyneth Paltrow and Christina Applegate. They literally turned messes into money!

One more example. Around 1999, the HVLS Fan Company (which stood for High Volume Low Speed) sold huge, slow-moving metal fans for barns, warehouses and other places which lacked air conditioning. Customers would call the company asking, “Do you sell those big ass fans?” That sparked a marketing campaign depicting a donkey’s rear and a fan with a 20-foot blade span. The flyer was captioned: Big Ass Fan. The only problem was postmasters in Georgia, Michigan, California and a few other states wouldn’t deliver the mailers because they deemed them inappropriate. What a mess! But the mailers that were delivered generated some interest. Maybe they were on to something.

A few years later, the HVLS Fan Company changed its name to Big Ass Fan Company, and the company founder, J. Carey Smith, change his title to Chief Big Ass. He won Inc.’s Economy Hero for refusing to lay off any employees during the Great Recession. In late 2017, he sold the company for half a billion dollars to a private equity firm.

If we learn from them, mistakes can be mile markers on the way to success!

So here are a few ways to look for money and potential out of your messes:

  1. See the problem as an opportunity. What can you learn? How can you help? Put on your problem-solving hat. For example, in one job, we got a new computer system. My boss at the time was frustrated by it. I was young and inexperienced, but the computer system came easy to me, and I didn’t mind helping him learn it. So, his problem became my opportunity. He also began to more readily see my value in other areas, and I got a raise that had been delayed.

  2. Get value out of the mess. Create a Key Learnings Inventory. Document everything you learned. What worked? What didn’t? What you learned in this mess may pay off big the next go-round. When I was going through a rough patch, I started keeping a Failures List. During a girls’ weekend, I told them my list was up to 53. The next day on a walk, one of my friends said, “You know the best thing that I’ve gotten out of this weekend?” She loves good food, so I thought she’d would say the broiled salmon we made the night before. “That you’re up to 53 on your Fails List. I always see you as having it together.” I started laughing and said, “Great! I’m glad that brought you such joy!” But it added a splash of redemptive value to my disappointments – my failures had encouraged her. Part of the reason, I was racking up so many “fails” was that I was more determined to get out of my comfort zone. (For more on busting out of your comfort zone.) Sometimes, we don’t set big goals for ourselves because we don’t want to fail. SET THOSE GOALS ANYWAY…which is the perfect segue way to…

  3. Let go of shame and fear tied to failure. Okay, this is the hardest one. Did you make a mess out of a situation? Or maybe you set a big goal and didn’t reach it? Or you worked really hard to shed pounds, and the scales didn’t budge? Did your department fail to meet its quota? Your product launch was a whimper more than a rocket? That failure can replay for us more times than “Seinfeld” reruns. Let’s change our zero tolerance for our own personal failures. According to author Dr. Brene Brown, “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.” Until we let go of the shame around our failure, we may not be able to truly embrace the good that comes out of a mess.

  4. Pivot, don’t point. If there’s a mess, too many times, I want to assign blame. Yep, I’m happy to wallow in it awhile, so I can figure out who should be in this mudhole with me. That’s pretty lame, isn’t it? And a waste of time. Imagine what our lives would look like if we quit blaming other people. They may have intentionally or unintentionally caused us harm, but blame keeps us stuck, not them. Taking personal responsibility for our part helps us move forward. What would our lives look like? What would our government, our healthcare and education systems look like? What about our businesses? Can you imagine the blame that has gone around after some company decisions? Remember the search engine Excite? Probably not. Excite was one of the biggest brands on the internet in the late 1990s and had its own search engine. In its infancy, Excite could have bought Google for $750,000. Excite passed. Now Google is worth $740 billion, and you’ll have to Google Excite to find out what happened to them. Those Excite execs clearly made a costly decision, one that probably later morphed into regret and even some blame. But, my bet is they were trying to make the best decisions they could at the time with the information they had. For the most part, we’re all doing the best we can, which can sometimes still looks pretty crappy.

Whether you’re an entrepreneur or not, almost all of us get paid to solve problems of one sort or another. The quicker we can honestly look at our messes (or those we are in charge of

cleaning up), the more likely we can come up with creative solutions – maybe even ones that

make us money.

We’re curious…

What’s your go-to strategy for dealing with messes and failures?



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