How to have happy accidents

No, this is not a blog post about potty training (although that is a subject I know intimately).

Last night I had nothing to say, so I tweeted: "What should I write a blog post about?"

@Ray_anne responded:

@adamkleinberg write about accidents in life that turn out to be blessings...

So accidentally, here I am writing this post. A blessing? Maybe, maybe not. But I do believe that not only can accidents turn out to be blessings, there's a lot you can do to make sure that comes true.

My background in the ad agency business is on the creative side. As a designer, I've always seen my job as sculpting little accidents into solutions to creative challenges. To me, this is what the creative process is all about. Tiny experiments based on a framework of intuition, experience and common sense.

It's this framework that is the key.

When the economy collapsed and Theo and I got laid off from Tribal DDB in 2001—one year after being recruited to start their San Francisco office—that was an accident.

We thought we could create something better, so we started Traction. Now, BtoB Mag says we're the #1 interactive agency in the country. I feel confident saying that accident turned out to be a blessing.

Sure. Talent, hard work and luck all played a role. But I truly believe that it was having a consistent framework that has—and will—evolve us into a great company.

I recently peeked at the Wayback Machine to see Traction's original website. What struck me was that all the stuff we said when there were four of us working out of the spare bedroom of my apartment is still the stuff we're saying today. Things like:

"Messaging must be concise, relevant and compelling. The user experience rises to the forefront of consequence. A clearly defined benefit is imperative - a catchy tagline or jingle will not suffice. Simply put, a unique human insight must be presented to the consumer at all points of contact."

But, our goal is not just to produce great advertising, It is to produce a great company where the experience getting there is as great as the final work itself.

Life is the stuff that happens while you're making plans, after all.

To achieve our goal, we need accidents to become blessings all the time. We need a framework.

How do you define a framework? Well, what do you value?

At Traction, we've very clearly defined what we value: Candor, Communication, Great Work, Empathy and Integrity

This means that everyone in my organization can intuit the correct answer to a "what should I do?" question by looking at this framework.


Q. "Should I tell the client now that their expectations are unreasonable?"

A. (Hmm. Candor!) "Yes, I should."

Q. "Should I spend an extra hour on this ____ until I nail it?"

A. (Let's see. Great work!) "Yes, I should."

And so on.

By defining what it is YOU value and understanding how values contribute to your goal, you can give yourself the framework you need to fall uphill.

There will always be setbacks and challenges you can't control. Eventual outcomes, however, you have the power to guide. Having a framework, a mission and value system—call it what you will—sets you on a course.

Follow it.

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