The rise of the muppet

Posted by on Feb 20, 2013 in culture, leadership, management | One Comment

In recent weeks and months I have been thinking a lot about the place of openness, honesty and authenticity when running a business. I’ve been reading the inspiring Culture Shock by Will McInnes and one of the major themes that I have been struck by is the role of failure within an organisation.

Epic fail

Traditionally failure is something best avoided. Failure is weakness and if you are week, then you are out. This culture leads to a environment of secrecy and of people working in silos for fear of being exposed for what they really are.

We all fail at times. We fail our friends, we fail our families and we fail at work. It is not a question of if. It is a question of when. And we all know it. As such, if the environment in which we find ourselves doesn’t accept this inevitability we tend to play it safe for fear of the consequences.

Generations of people in organisations across industries and across the world, have failed to fulfil their potential because of a fear of failure. Risks that should be taken are side-stepped, innovations that should be made are missed, and opportunities for both the individuals and the organisations of which they are apart are lost.

Organic muppets

In my life before I launched Dootrix I worked at a fantastic web agency called Headscape. During a period when I was running the technical team it became clear to me that I was probably the weakest developer in the group. They were a very, very talented team! smile

This realisation opened up an opportunity to move away from a traditional top down approach to leadership and on to a model of true collaboration. Because I, as the lead, was the first to unashamedly put my hand up and ask for input from the team it made it ok for all team members to do the same.

This culture shift developed and gave rise to something we called The Muppet Award. Whenever somebody asked for help in a stupid context they were declared The Muppet. The award could be handed out to anybody, by anybody, for any reason that they saw fit and soon shifted from being a metaphorical badge to a physical singing, dancing, pink hippo that sat on the desk of the current Muppet Award owner!

In a very short space of time The Muppet started being awarded several times a day and was something of a badge of honour. Silly questions, stupid mistakes, epic fails were all of a sudden OK! Consequently issues were in the open sooner and problems were resolved quicker. Collaboration increased, team knowledge was shared and productivity increased all because of the organic rise of The Muppet.

Eventually a Gonzo in a Hawaiian shirt was purchased and used to award The Muppet of the Year for the most hilarious fail, across the entire organisation, in the last twelve months. This became part of the Christmas party each year and was very amusing. Designers, developers, project managers, and directors all got involved and carried their Muppet Award with pride.

Openness, authenticity and personality

Headscape’s Muppet Award is a brilliant example of what can happen when fear of failure gives way to openness, authenticity and the natural personality that exists within any organisation.

Failure is part of life. It is unavoidable. Accept it and use it to your advantage.

At Dootrix we do not have a Muppet Award but we are trying to encourage an environment of open collaboration and honest feedback. We have found that if it is OK to get things wrong people are more likely to enjoy the freedom to get things right.

How is failure handled in your organisation? What impact does it have on your people? Do leave a comment, I’m really interested your experiences of this.

  • Chris Mason

    Love it, Rob. Great post. If you haven’t come across it already you might like Simon Sinek’s book “Leaders Eat Last”. I wonder if flying, screaming monkey would make a good muppet award 🙂