I lost a major account yesterday. The e-mail from the editor was brief, “Hesh, your humor just doesn’t translate well in Australia.”
My response? Really, I have nothing disparaging to say about Australians. First, I do not know any. I never spoke to this editor. We conducted all our business via e-mail. In retrospect, he took a big risk in publishing my column. Imagine the Wall Street Journal publishing a column every fortnight by an Australian business humor columnist. It would be unprecedented.
I am proud of the fact that I wrote for such a prestigious international client. And even though I have lost the account it was a worthwhile accomplishment while it lasted.
I thought of issuing a press release: “Western Australia Business News cancels Hesh Reinfeld’s business humor column.” I bet that would catch the interest of those who follow the news wires. Usually in businesses, no one announces the loss of a client. Usually we read about all the new business a company is acquiring. And then six months later the newspaper carries a short legal notice announcing the company is in Chapter 11.
It is really no different than my synagogue that announces with much fanfare the new members of the congregation. However, it never seems to talk about the number of members who have left. (That is one of the many reasons I am no longer on the board of directors, I kept on asking how many members we were losing.)
I may start a business blog where we can honestly announce our defeats and losses. I don’t want to simply remove Western Australia Business News from my Web site’s list of clients, pretending as if we never had a relationship. It is like dating the prom queen in high school. True she dumped me after a month, but for that month life was grand and I want to celebrate it. (My wife says that my problem is that I want to keep on celebrating it.)
We are all afraid of saying we have had failures. Although all the management guru books say that one learns more from one’s mistakes, I have yet to see a resume announcing all the things one has screwed up.
OK, maybe that is unrealistic. But could there at least be just one line on a job application that would ask: “Please tell us (in 25 words or less) about a job you screwed up and why. This question must be answered, if not, we will not process your application. And we will check the references on this one.”
Maybe it is a matter of age. As a business leader, until you’re 50 you have to prove you are a change agent who has turned organizations around. After 50 you’re allowed to finally divulge you have made mistakes and that the screw-ups have given you wisdom, humility and a book contract.
It’s analogous to dating when you are middle-aged. Divorced women over 40 do not want to date a guy who has never been married. He is actually a bigger risk then dating a guy who has been divorced. (Guys, if you don’t understand why, ask a woman in your office.)
Now if I am serious about this I should add a page to my Web site and proudly display a list of the clients I have lost. It sounds liberating. But I really don’t want my readers to know the newspapers that have dropped my column.
So in the great tradition of Gilda Radner’s character, Emily Litella, from “Saturday Night Live”: “Never Mind.”
This article appears in the August 19 2005 issue of New Hampshire Business Review