Jeff Jarvis calls out a comment left on his site that demonstrates the challenges of working in a Web 2.0 world. Jeff has been documenting the troubles he’s had with Dell’s customer support. And then he receives a comment on his blog that includes the following snippet:

“I’ve been working with Dell the past three weeks researching trashy blogs that worms like you leave all over that frigen blogosphere”

Hmmm, perhaps not the most tactful thing to say when you are representing a brand name seeking to improve its reputation. It’s worth reading Jeff’s full post and the comments there for a great insight into the challenges we face as business become real-time. I’ve referred to the internal challenges in Dashboard Dangers. Here we have an external example. It turns out that the person who left the comment was a summer intern at the ad agency representing Dell. I hope to goodness that his management allow him (and themselves) to learn from this experience rather than just throw him out. Was it a stupid thing to do? Absolutely. But we all make stupid mistakes from time to time. Thanks to the Internet, it’s no longer so easy to hide them. The Blog of Athos made a telling comment, when referring to a company that has attempted to profit by copying open source software:

“The problem is that in Web 2.0 everybody can be found out.”

There are many benefits to be gained from this transparency but it does have its challenges – mistakes are usually the best way to learn and if managers overreact, people will become risk-averse and prone to ask permission before doing anything. And then we lose the conversational element that makes Web 2.0 what it is.

What’s really interesting to me is that this transparency of failing in public is new to business but old hat to another industry – sports. If you want to succeed in sport, you have to compete. And the reality is that you are likely going to lose more often than you win – in competition, your mistakes are there for everybody to see. I wrote about this in Be a loser – you have to learn to cope with the public humiliation of losing but never enjoy it (something Michael Johnson highlighted in his talk: Failure is not OK). Making mistakes (losing) is an essential part of learning (fixing the weak spots) that leads to future success (winning gold medals).

Businesss needs to apply lessons from sport. Mistakes in public are always painful. You can either use them as opportunities to learn and improve, or find excuses and either give-up or remain an also-ran.

[Update: 13 July] I was going to include an example from sport – Zinedine Zidane would be an obvious candidate right now. I remember the hideous furore that David Beckham faced after being sent off during the 1998 World Cup. What he did was stupid but he learned from it, dealt with the consequences and got on with playing football… The business equivalent would have probably led to him being sacked.

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