The Successful Mistake Story
A true story about my very dear friend Barney Kaplan.
Back around 1970, I met Barney Kaplan, he was in the wholesale automotive parts business in Detroit Michigan.
After WW2, Barney went into the automotive parts business driving a panel truck around looking for good deals and buying auto electrical parts. In combination with this he opened an automotive electrical rebuilding shop located on Wabash Street in Detroit. Barney enjoyed being in business because he loved to meet and talk to people.
By the time I met Barney, he was very successful having developed friends and customers all over the world.
As Barney got older, he loved to give people unsolicited business advice. Because Barney had such a broad knowledge in automotive electrical repair and rebuilding business he felt he should disseminate this information to everyone he met. In Barney’s mind, he felt everyone could use his advice.
What happened was, many of us took Barneys advice and used it to our advantage. But there were also many business people that took offence to Barney’s offer of free consultation and advice, it was advice that they had not asked for.
Barney would tell people how their factory should be designed, how the windows and lighting should be located, etc. He gave you all this consultation and advice even if you didn’t want it.
After many years of doing this, and as Barney got older, he sort of felt that he was the Guru to hundreds of people in the rebuilding industry. He couldn’t wait to meet anyone to engage them in conversation.
So to assist him in starting a conversation with someone that he had not met before, he had a saying printed on the back of his business card. “What is a successful mistake?”
Naturally when people read this, they didn’t have a clue as to how to reply to Barney, and to the few that did reply, Barney always said they were wrong, and then he went into his explanation of what he thought a successful mistake was. Barney’s explanation was usually some business related thing that he felt was a successful mistake.
Because I knew Barney so well, I heard him go through this routine many times. No matter what the people said Barney would correct them and tell them his version of what a successful mistake was.
On occasion I would be talking to someone and Barney would approach and naturally, I would introduce Barney to them. It wasn’t long before he handed them his business card and said “Do you know what a successful mistake is?” Barney just couldn’t wait for them to reply so he could say they were wrong and go into his explanation.
One day I was sitting at a bar at a trade show in Chicago, I was having a conversation with one of my sharpest sales representatives, he covered the state of Texas for my company.
As we sat there talking, who should walk up, but my dear friend Barney Kaplan, who I immediately introduced. In a few seconds, out came Barney’s business card, and Barney turned it over so my agent could read it. Then Barney quickly asked him, “Do you know what a successful mistake is”? Barney couldn’t wait for the guy to flub the answer.
My sales rep said, “Sure I know what a successful mistake is. It is when you meet a beautiful lady and she comes home with you. Then when you are in bed you find out she is a female impersonator, she’s a guy.
Barney was speechless, and he never said a word. Personally I thought that was really a successful mistake and I think so did Barney.
After that, I noticed Barney removed “What is a successful mistake” off his business card.