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Quiet question sends loud message

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

Terry Jones, founder of Travelocity, recalls the early days when most people accessed the web via a slow dial-up connection. To build Travelocity’s business, he decided to create a CD-ROM with alluring video of Caribbean vacation spots.

He figured that by distributing the CD-ROM to potential customers, they would find the video too appealing to resist and book a trip on Travel­­ocity’s website. He spent $1 million hiring a production and marketing firm to develop and distribute the CD-ROM.

Within months, however, it became clear that the CD-ROM wasn’t translating into an increase in online sales. Jones had to go to his boss and explain why he squandered $1 million of the company’s money.

He assumed his boss would scold him—or worse—for wasting precious funds.

Instead, his boss asked, “Well, Terry, what did you learn?”

This quiet question sent a loud message: It’s OK to fail if you learn from it and apply those lessons going forward.

“I knew I couldn’t lose a million bucks again, but I also knew he had my back,” Jones writes.

Reflecting on that meeting, Jones muses that it would have been easy for his boss to forbid any future attempts to take pricey gambles. But by signaling that he expected people to learn from their experiments, his boss showed that he welcomed innovative thinking and wouldn’t penalize reasonable risks.

—Adapted from On Innovation, Terry Jones, Essential Ideas.

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