• One Thing Better
  • Posts
  • What If Every Failure Is Just An “Accidental Experiment?”

What If Every Failure Is Just An “Accidental Experiment?”

Ask yourself: What is being tested? And what was discovered?

Welcome to One Thing Better. Each week, the editor in chief of Entrepreneur magazine (that's me) shares one way to be more successful and satisfied — and build a career or company you love.

Do you know someone who could benefit from this newsletter? Please forward it to them!

Today’s one thing: Messing up.

That one thing, better: Discovering something unexpected.

When things go wrong, here’s a question to ask yourself:

“Did I just run an accidental experiment?”

The answer might be yes. And once you realize this, you’ll feel a lot better.

Because here’s the thing: Mistakes suck. They make us feel empty — like there’s a vacuum where there should have been a victory.

But the “accidental experiment” completely reframes the experience. It gives you something to ponder, explore, and learn from.

I stumbled into this idea recently, after something went wrong for me. It helped immensely, and I think it can help you.

So today, I’ll share why it works — starting with my big mistake.

Where it all went wrong.

Two weeks ago, I hosted a workshop for my One Thing Better community. The stakes felt high — because I want members to be happy, and my friend Richelle DeVoe was doing me a huge favor by hosting it with me. 

The call took place on Zoom, where I usually host them. But when we all joined, Zoom told me the call would be capped at 40 minutes… even though I’d scheduled it for 60.

I felt a small panic. Why would this be!? Zoom’s free accounts have a 40-minute cutoff, but I’m on a paid account. So as Richelle spoke to the group, I scrambled to solve the problem. I thought I succeeded, and told everyone it was fixed... but at 40 minutes, the call abruptly cut off.

All my hard work. Weeks of preparation. Dozens of people. Poof, gone.

I felt a larger panic. Then I did the only thing I could think of: I re-entered the Zoom room. To my relief, so did 90% of the group. Then the call carried on.

Afterward, I called Richelle and apologized for the error. (As I later learned, the credit card on file at Zoom had expired and needed replacing.) But Richelle saw a great lesson in it.

“It was like an accidental experiment,” she said. “When the call got cut off, you got to see how many people were truly engaged and willing to come back — and almost all of them did. That’s very high retention!”

I laughed. It’s true. 

Then I thought: OMG, what a brilliant way to learn from mistakes.

The genius of an accidental experiment.

Think of an accidental experiment like this: When something goes wrong, you get to see the results of something you wouldn’t have normally done.

For example, let’s say I wanted to know how engaged people were on my Zoom calls.

This is a hard thing to test, because...

  • I could track how long they stay on the call, but what if they’re just bored and checking their email?

  • I could survey them after every call, but that’s tedious and prone to error.

  • I could literally cut the call off in the middle and see who comes back? But no, that’s a terrible user experi—

Whoops, it just happened. That sucks. But now I get to see the results!

This is how some great scientific discoveries are made — by waiting for things to accidentally happen, because we can’t (or ethically won’t) set them in motion ourselves. 

We don’t harm people just to see how we can heal them, for example. But when mistakes are made and people are harmed, we have an opportunity to study our bodies and discover new cures.

Here’s a related thought from a scientist: 

“If we do not test our own ideas to destruction, somebody else will.” 

That comes from a meteorologist named Mike Lockwood, writing to his fellow scientists in the journal Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences. He wants his peers to embrace errors — because progress is nothing but the process of trial and error. “Mistakes often bring to your attention new areas, techniques and theories that you had not realized were relevant,” he writes, “and so drive lateral thinking and serendipitous discovery.”

And opportunities are all around you!

For example: My friend Lauren King is starting a bagel business. After making bagels at home for a while, she rented space at a fancy commercial kitchen — and on the first day there, she spent $145 making eight dozen bagels.

Then she realized: If she sold these bagels for normal bagel prices, she’d earn about $145 — exactly what she spent to make them. So she put her kitchen membership on hold.

“My contentment about this startles me,” she texted me. “I should be more upset, right?”

“I actually think this is excellent,” I replied. “It cost you $145 to see if the economics of this new arrangement worked. Better to do that now than spend thousands of dollars discovering the same lesson.

It was an accidental experiment — and money well spent.

So much can go wrong. Our efforts can fail. Our relationships can fracture. Our time can be wasted. Our egos can be bruised.

But in each case, as we face the challenges of the moment, it is worth asking:

If this was an experiment, what is being tested? And what was discovered?

Because I’m telling you — something is being tested. And some result was just found.

Maybe you were laid off, or a relationship fell apart. Maybe a product didn’t work, or a conversation didn’t go well, or an idea didn’t land. You had a hypothesis. Something else happened instead. Now you’re in uncharted territory, learning the things you didn’t set out to learn — but those may be the best lessons of them all. 

As the scientist said: If we do not test our own ideas to destruction, somebody else will.

Let’s be the one to fail first. To know what’s on the other side of it. To learn the lesson quicker, to react to it faster, to have a solution to it sooner. To test our own resiliency, and the strength and commitment of others. To know what we’re dealing with. To create what we want.

That’s an experiment worth running.

And that’s how to do one thing better.

P.S. Want a little peek behind the newsletter?

Every week, I run an A/B test with subject lines. Two subject lines go out to a randomly selected 10% of my subscribers at 5:55 am, and the winning line is sent to everyone else three hours later. I’m always fascinated to see which one wins, and I wonder: Maybe you’d find this interesting too? Just for fun, here was last week’s:

WINNING LINE: The thing that makes people love you

LOSING LINE: The thing that's simple, fast, and absolutely critical

Last week’s newsletter was about why you should reply to (almost) every message you get. Read!

P.P.S. Our next call dates are here!

I’m hosting two calls with the One Thing Better community this month — on Feb 15 and 28. They’ll be a mix of tactical workshops (subjects to be announced soon!) and chances to connect with other interesting people and expand your network. Log-in information is here, available to members!

Let's Connect!

New to the newsletter? Subscribe for free and take control of your future.

💌 What do you think? Let me know!

📕 Order my book to future-proof your career!