Discussing Our “Favorite Mistakes” — Mark Graban and Alisha Wielfaert Podcast Interviews
Normally, I like to be the one doing the interviewing. My latest guest on “My Favorite Mistake” was Alisha Wielfaert, who shared her “favorite mistake” story about starting a yoga studio that failed. It's a favorite mistake because she learned from it, as she's started her coaching business, Yoke and Abundance.
I think you'll like the episode and I also think you'll like her new book Little Failures: Learning to Build Resilience Through Everyday Setbacks, Challenges, and Obstacles.
She was kind enough to have me as a guest on her podcast, even though she normally interviews “wise women.”
Below, I'm sharing the audio, the video, and a transcript of my appearance on her podcast.
And please do check out her appearance on “My Favorite Mistake” with me. And I can't recommend her book enough.
Mark Graban: What's the worst that can happen? If I try this and I don't like it, if I try this and I can't adapt to a different environment, I could probably still find a job back in what I thought my old career path was. I'll probably learn things along the way.
As it's turned out, instead of maybe a detour, it was more of an off ramp. I wasn't running for manufacturing, but the opportunity to work in healthcare was an opportunity I was thankfully in a position to take advantage of.
If I hadn't had that opportunity to go visit the hospital in Scottsdale. If I hadn't piqued my interest, if I hadn't built some confidence of, “Yeah, these skills are transferable.” If I'd only been at that other company for a year, which maybe resume-wise might have looked a little too soon to leave. Things lined up in a way that I'm very thankful for.
Alisha Wielfaert: You're listening to the “Wise Women Podcast Season 5, Episode 169.”
Alisha: I'm your host, Alisha Wielfaert, Founder of Yoke and Abundance, coach to entrepreneurs, creatives, and seekers. This podcast introduces you to women on their journey to flourishing businesses and lives. In today's episode, I'm sharing my conversation with Mark Graban, author and host of the popular podcast “My Favorite Mistake.”
Welcome back. I am so excited to get to dive into today's episode with all of you. We have another awesome guy who is coming on the podcast today. I know that I am on a mission to share stories from amazing women, but I'm meeting a lot of amazing people, in general, these days. I am expanding who we are talking to because you're going to get a lot out of today's guest.
Today's guest, Mark Graban, is an author of the award-winning book “Lean Hospitals – Improving Quality, Patient Safety, and Employee Engagement.” Mark is also co-author with Joe Swartz of “Healthcare Kaizen — Engaging Front-Line Staff in Sustainable Continuous Improvements” and “The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen.”
His most recent book is “Measures of Success — React Less, Lead Better, Improve More.” He is also the Creator and Editor of the anthology book “Practicing Lean.” He serves as a consultant to organizations through his company, Constancy, Inc., and through the firm Value Capture. He's also a senior advisor at the technology company, KaiNexus.
He has focused on healthcare improvement since 2005 after starting his career in industry at General Motors, Dell, and Honeywell. Mark is the host of podcasts, including “Lean Blog Interviews,” My Favorite Mistake, and “Habitual Excellence,” presented by Value Capture.
Mark has a BS in Industrial Engineering from Northwestern University, an MS in Mechanical Engineering, and an MBA from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Leaders for Global Operations Program.
Alisha: Mark Graban, it is so lovely to have you on the podcast today. Thanks so much for being here.
Mark: Thanks, Alyssa. Thanks for inviting me.
Alisha: I am over the moon to have you on the show today because you have a podcast about one of my favorite topics in the whole wide world, and it's called My Favorite Mistake.
Alisha: [laughs] Yes, I love it.
Mark: My coffee mug.
Alisha: Yeah. For those listening, Mark just lifted his mug. What does it say?
Mark: It's the My Favorite Mistake logo. Maybe later, if you want, there's some mantras on the other side of the mug that might be fun to explore.
Alisha: Oh, we should definitely do that. Can you tell me how did your podcast, My Favorite Mistake, get started?
Mark: There's a couple of elements to it. I've been fascinated by this idea of learning from mistakes for a while now. The core of the work that I do professionally as an engineer turned consultant is around helping people improve, helping organizations improve.
There's a methodology a lot of this is built off of, that is often referred to as lean manufacturing. Or, people might have heard of what's then sometimes called lean startup or lean healthcare, which is where I've ended up working.
When I started this project, I was probably — it was 5, 6 years ago — about 20 years into my career. I noticed a pattern where you see people sharing things at conferences or posting things online.
With experience, there's an opportunity to try to coach or mentor others that don't have as much experience or are new to a field or to a practice. At the same time, I would catch myself sometimes being snarky about it.
That's not good. That's not helpful. That's not a good look for me. I was reflecting on some of that. The concept of the book, “Practicing Lean”, for one, it's borrowing a word that's used in realms like medicine.
Doctors get to say they're practicing medicine. Practicing law is commonly used. In your realm, yoga, practicing yoga. You don't learn yoga or learn medicine to a point where there's not anything more to learn.
Alisha: The rabbit hole is deep. [laughs]
Mark: It is. The more you learn, the more you know you don't know. There's those cycles there. I wrote a couple of stories, chapters, essays, about mistakes I made in the first couple of years of my career.
Mistakes that stuck with me or had enough of an impact where I've reflected. I've learned to avoid repeating those mistakes. I've grown personally and professionally.
What I wish I had done differently in the spirit of when we're all new to something, we're bound to make mistakes due to lack of knowledge, lack of knowing how to practice well or not being practiced.
I invited a lot of people I knew and a couple of people I didn't know so well. 15 other authors all contributed chapters of their early career mistakes and lessons learned. As a reminder to people or again, mainly as a reminder to me, be careful when criticizing people who are new to a field or to a discipline.
That project inspired by some of those thoughts and feelings. All of the proceeds from the book are donated to a non-profit that I'm on the board of called the Louise Batz Patient Safety Foundation. That project was a labor of love. It was an experiment in self-publishing. It was all sorts of things.
Fast forward to 2020. I've been doing a podcast about what we call lean. It's called Lean Blog Interviews. I started with a blog, and then I started doing podcasting. That name is a bit of a mistake. It's clunky. Lean Blog Interviews? I don't know. I could have come up with a better name.
Lesson learned there. When you've had a podcast for a while — I don't know if this is happening for you now, Alisha — PR firms will find you and will start pitching guests.
Sometimes these pitchers are quite generic. They're blasting them out to lots of shows. That's fine. I would either just delete them. Sometimes I would reply and say that person sounds great, but my podcast is very niche. They're probably not a fit.
If you were doing a podcast about yoga, you might maybe accept a guest who talks about meditation. I almost said medication. That's me working in healthcare. Another mistake.
You might have something that's maybe adjacent to the core. I don't if that's a good example. Then if somebody wanted to come on and talk about keto diets and weight loss, you might say, “Well, that's not my show.” Right?
Alisha: It's not.
Mark: The first couple of months in the pandemic, I was working from home and trying to find different ways to keep busy, and we get these pitches. Then one day a pitch came in, offering a chance to interview Kevin Harrington. He was one of the first sharks on the show “Shark Tank”. He was on season 1.
I thought, “I would love to meet him. I would love to interview him. Let me find a way to say yes, instead of having to keep saying no.” I bounced a couple ideas off of a couple of PR firms. It could be just a very general business podcast, but then I also had this idea, and I love the Sheryl Crow song, “My Favorite Mistake.”
Alisha: I was going to ask you about that. [laughs]
Mark: I love that song. I think she's singing about a love mistake. My podcast is about business mistakes. Anyway, Kevin Harrington was open to being a guest. We recorded it. He was great. I was afraid that I don't want someone to come on and say, “My Favorite Mistake is that I'm just too awesome, and success comes too easily to me.” No, that's not interesting to talk about.
He told a story about a mistake in his telemarketing infomercial career that could have bankrupted his company, and how he learned from it. How powerful that somebody who is so successful would have, we could frame it as courage, humility, or vulnerability, to talk about a mistake from their past.
What they've learned and how they've moved forward, because that's the spirit of the podcast. It's not mocking people for making mistakes because we all make them. If there's people out there who think I'd be curious how common this mindset is, people who are successful haven't made mistakes.
Probably the opposite is true. They've probably made more mistakes. This is why I love the framing for your book, Alisha. They've probably had lots of little failures that they learned from to help prevent big failures.
Alisha: I'm curious what you think about this? One of the things I've started saying is that our little failures are actually our best-kept success secrets. I'm fascinated by that, and they tie in specifically to the beginner mindset.
When you started to reframe how you spoke to beginners, I've always heard it put that the beginner mind has the best insights. I'm wondering if you've been able to see that, if that is true.
Mark: It's true, whether it's mentoring or learning. Learning should be happening in all directions. The one example would be, let's say, in a corporate setting. Typically, the older person mentors the younger person, but maybe a better form of mentoring is this bi-directional or multi-directional mentoring, where the younger person has things to teach the older person.
I've had a group. Some people might call it a mastermind group. It's informal. It's not a paid mastermind program, but a group of podcasters, who I know, and a couple of people who invited a friend of a friend. We meet every couple of months, and we have a group on Facebook, where we share and compare things.
In that group, we've tried to have that spirit of…I've been podcasting for 16 years. That doesn't mean I know everything. We've got people in the group who had just started podcasting in the past year. Somebody who is new, might be, not just might be, can and is teaching me some of the newer things while I'm here, I might be set in my ways.
Experience of repeating the same things over and over isn't necessarily better. I totally agree with you. We all have something to learn from each other.
Alisha: How did you get into the healthcare piece of things? I'm so fascinated by that, and I'm curious about it a lot because you're such an entrepreneur. I'm wondering what came first for you and where is the passion?
Mark: I had not moved away totally from corporate life at that point. In my career, I started off thinking I was going to work for big companies my whole career. I started my career at General Motors and then two years later, went to grad school. Thinking that job at General Motors was a favorite mistake in a way.
I went to grad school and that was very much focused on business and manufacturing, and have a career progressively, hopefully, moving up the leadership ranks and probably big companies. When I was in grad school at MIT, I got my eyes open to the small world of entrepreneurship, which I didn't have any exposure to growing up. That was a great opportunity.
I took my first job out of grad school at a large, faster-growing company. Smaller than GM, faster-growing, I took a job at Dell Computer, which was also a favorite mistake in some different ways. I was having doubts about this bigger company environment.
Being in Austin, Texas, a big startup entrepreneurship town, I met a founder of a company and I joined a software startup company in the late 2000s. That was my first dip into entrepreneurship. Then after ups and downs of that, I overcorrected and went back to another big company. [laughs] Then I quickly realized, “Oh, wait. Yeah, I left this environment for all the reasons.”
How did I get involved in healthcare? Back in 2005, through a local networking group in Phoenix, where I was working at the time, there was a local networking group of people who did this lean manufacturing type of work at different large, non-competing companies. We would get together and visit each other's facilities and compare notes.
One of those opportunities, then, was a visit hosted by two women who had left Motorola. They were doing work with a hospital in Scottsdale. We got to go visit and see what they were doing to apply these methodologies or engineering, management and systems, and continuous improvement to healthcare. That was eye-opening.
Again, I would have never thought…
Alisha: Me either.
Mark: …apply. Summer of 2005, my wife got a job offer that meant moving to Texas, which meant I was going to have to change jobs. Right place right time, I got contacted by a recruiter from Johnson & Johnson, who was looking to hire people into a consulting group that they had that worked out in the field, with medical labs, and in hospitals.
I thought this would be my first job as an external consultant instead of being on the inside. This would be my first opportunity to work in healthcare. If you think about potential mistakes, this is a helpful framing. I asked myself, what's the worst that can happen?
If I try this, and I don't like it? If I try this, and I can't adapt to a different environment, I could probably still find a job back in what I thought my old career path was, but I'll probably learn things along the way. As it's turned out, instead of maybe a detour, it was more of an off-ramp.
I wasn't running from manufacturing. The opportunity to work in healthcare it's just an opportunity, I was thankfully in a position to take advantage of.
Because if I hadn't had that opportunity to go visit the hospital in Scottsville, if I hadn't piqued my interest, if I hadn't built some confidence of “Yeah,” these skills are transferable. I'd only been at that other company for a year, which may be resume-wise, might have looked a little too soon to leave. Things lined up in a way that I'm very thankful for.
Alisha: Lots of kismet there.
Alisha: Thank you for sharing that story. I wanted to turn the tables a little bit. I know you probably get asked this question a lot. I am curious what your favorite mistake is.
Mark: I can share a couple of those. I say taking a job at General Motors was a favorite mistake. The first year there was awful. It was a toxic work environment before people used that word. Long story short, that first year was bad. It had me questioning all sorts of things. What kind of jobs or careers am I looking for? Is this how adults behave in the workplace?
It was rough. The two things that made that then a favorite mistake, and I'm glad I stuck with it, it might have been a mistake to quit that job after the first year because here's what I would've missed out on.
In that job, there were some great people there, of course. One of those people who was mentoring me, and I was learning a lot from, had gone to a program at MIT. At the time, it was called Leaders for Manufacturing. I already had my mind. I thought I'd go get an MBA. I thought I would go to business school.
I was in Michigan. I thought, University of Michigan or maybe go back to Northwestern where I'd get my undergrad, great schools I could have gotten in. Some of those are schools I could get into and have a great education, but Steve, thankfully, encouraged me to pursue this program at MIT.
He knew that it would be a good fit for me and vice versa. MIT would have never been on my radar, not just maybe because it's East coast, even though I have the engineering and technical background, it's just that wasn't something I was thinking about.
I'm grateful for one to have that experience. Then, thankfully, that second year at General Motors, they brought in a new plant manager, who had been at GM a long time but had the opportunity to learn deeply from Toyota in a joint venture plant that GM and Toyota ran together for about 20 years.
He was a breath of fresh air, and to see how a different leadership style could start to turn a place around, like without being there, without staying there, I wouldn't have been exposed to all of that. I just got my GM experience, at least, for one as being a favorite mistake. Can I take a minute and share the other one?
Alisha: Yes, I want to hear the other one, but before you do, I want to put a pin in this because I coached so many clients, they're in jobs that either they're not the right fit for them, or it's a toxic work environment.
What's so beautiful about the story that you just shared is that there is always gold if you're willing to look for it, in the things that we think are horrible sometimes. [laughs] I really appreciate you sharing that specific story because I know so many clients that might even be listening to this right now that are in these work environments that are not the right fit.
I want them to remember that there's still something positive there if they continue to look for it. It reminds me of Sheryl Sandberg. It's complex. It's a complicated book for lots of different reasons, but there's something that she talks about in that book that is so important.
It's the idea to not leave the table until you're done. It sounds to me like, in that scenario, even though you weren't happy, you didn't leave the table.
Mark: Right. I could have and that's the thing. I've interviewed people who've talked about mistakes of leaving a job too soon or staying with the job too soon. Either of those, the action or the inaction, not leaving a job is a choice. It's an action.
Either of those could be a mistake. I'm not saying this is the only question to consider, but to think through risks or trade-offs. The risk of leaving versus the risk of staying might be helpful to think through.
It doesn't mean we have a crystal ball. As we try to make these decisions, it's important to think and recognize I very well might make a mistake. How would I course-correct from that?
I thought about that when I took that first job in health care. This could be a mistake. I'm not taking it because I think it is a mistake. There was a backup plan. Stick with it for a couple of years. At that point, I didn't want a resume that showed a lot of job hopping.
I could have gotten out of that. I could have maybe stayed at J&J and worked back in their manufacturing. Or I could have gotten back into a manufacturing job someplace else.
I agree with what you're saying though. Hopefully, there is some goal to be found. I don't know. Always, I don't know. If it's really, truly not there, then maybe it is time to move on.
Alisha: We get scared though sometimes. [laughs] There's so much fear involved in the leaving piece of things. I definitely want to hear your other mistake.
Mark: Let me talk just real briefly. The one story that I led with in the book, “Practicing Lean” was about…It wasn't my first year of my career. It was still in the first decade of my career.
When I worked for that last manufacturing company, I was going through a certification program. I had to do a project. The culture there was not one of really engaging the frontline employees and change.
It was still a very expert-driven culture. As an engineer, going through the certification, they're like, “All right, expert, go in and fix things.” I felt uncomfortable with it, where I wanted to engage people.
I take some ownership of not fighting hard enough on that. Going along with predominant culture, I was doing a lot of it myself. I wasn't engaging people. I wasn't getting input. I wasn't collaborating enough.
The project that I did, worked well enough to get certified. It really didn't have any lasting impact. The lesson learned is to fight harder or not get into a situation that would be similar.
As a consultant, I really guard against…If somebody said we want to hire you to come in and fix it for us, I don't want to do that. There's a lesson learned from that.
Alisha: Within the collaboration and being able to bounce ideas off of each other. Ask people what their main problems are. That's where the learning is, is what I'm hearing?
Mark: Yeah, and what are their ideas? Can you get agreement that there's a problem? Sometimes people don't agree that there's a problem. That engagement leads to buy-in. Buy-in, and people use that phrase.
How do we get people to buy-in to change? That's not something you install at the very last minute. The buy-in is created along the way through engagement. I've learned some lessons about that by reflecting on something I would consider to be a favorite mistake.
There's one other story that's shorter than…
Mark: …if you had to follow-up on that other story.
Alisha: Do tell, please.
Mark: I already mentioned I left that job at Dell Computer after just under two years. I got to do some cool work. I realized I don't think this is a fit for me culturally. I couldn't envision a career there.
Working there, I met my wife. We've had our 20th anniversary last October. We met. She was not also a Dell employee. I'm like, this could be a mistake, dating somebody you work with. The hard thing is breaking up, if you break up with somebody you work with.
She was there working for a large consulting firm on a project with a huge team. Literally, our first interaction was an email, scheduling a meeting. The first time we ever met was in a little conference room.
Alisha: That's a good story.
Mark: Then I'll do the “Seinfeld” thing. Then, yada-yada-yada, we get married. I shouldn't yada-yada that. If I hadn't taken that job at Dell Computer, I wouldn't have met my wife. The workplace, the career decision is a favorite mistake.
Alisha: I love that so much. It's funny you bring that up. My boyfriend bought the house next to mine in 2020. We started dating almost immediately. I remember thinking, oh man, if we break up, he lives right next to me.
Alisha: Going OK.
Mark: It's awkward going out to get the mail.
Alisha: I'm also curious if you've heard a story on you podcast that is one of your favorite mistakes stories that you want to share.
Mark: There's a lot of them.
Alisha: There are a lot of them.
Mark: Let me share though episode two, with somebody I had reached out to. I had a chance to meet him personally when we lived in San Antonio. He's a friend of a neighbor and close friend of ours.
He was at the time, a member of Congress from Texas, Representative Will Hurd. He had already announced… He served two terms in the House, and then decided he was going to retire from the House and go back to the private sector for probably all the reasons.
He was a Republican from Texas. He left. I knew he was on his way out of office. I reached out for his press office. I'm a friend of so and so. I've met Representative Hurd. I host this podcast. I figured all I could do was ask.
They would either delete the email or say no, I'm sorry. He can't do that because he's got to be on “Face of the Nation”. He's on all the main news shows being interviewed and commenting on things, always in office. I'm just this little startup podcast.
He said yes. I was thrilled about that. He told a story. His favorite mistake was the first time he ran for Congress. In the primary, he was the top vote-getter, but he didn't get 50 percent. It went into a runoff between him and one other candidate.
As he told the story, he basically discounted and chose not to listen to advice from his political consultants about the strategy for the runoff. He thought, I won the most votes the first time. I'm going to just keep doing more of what I'm doing. He lost the runoff.
Alisha: Oh, man.
Mark: What I really appreciated in his telling of that story is that he took responsibility for the decision. He admitted it was a mistake. He didn't throw others under the bus or try to blame them, which I'm sure happen.
It happens a lot in many workplaces. I'm sure it happens in politics. He learned from that though. When he ran again two years later, if I remember right, it also went to a runoff. He followed the strategy, because he learned.
His consultants were trying to tell him, a runoff when it's you versus one other person, requires a different strategy when you versus a field of competitors. He listened, and he won.
Alisha: That's a great story.
Mark: I love that story. Those stories set the bar high then for everybody else. I didn't know how many people are going to want to talk about mistakes. Thankfully, it's been a lot of people, yourself included.
Alisha: When I started kicking around the idea of failure, mistakes, or setbacks, these challenges that we think nobody else has or no one else has ever encountered before, I was so surprised at…
I have a morning writing group, a morning group coaching call. We write. Then we talk about what comes up. When we first started talking about this topic, we talked about it two weeks straight.
We couldn't shut up about it. About oh, yeah, I hate talking about failure. This is why. This is what it brings up for me. If I think about failure differently, this is what I…It became this whole thing. I was like, wow, we all are secretly obsessed with mistakes.
Mark: Hopefully, obsessed with not dwelling on what we've done but finding…I'm trying to get better at this. Trying to find a proper level of reflection. Then thinking about, what am I going to do differently?
There's all sorts of mistakes. The first time you're thrown into a situation that you don't expect, you might make a mistake. Then you can process it and be better prepared for the next time you face that situation.
Not beating yourself up, or not being too hard on yourself. I don't think totally brushing it off and saying, “Well, things happen.” It was meant to be. What can you do? Well, I think you can reflect, learn, and grow.
Alisha: Absolutely. Is there anything else you would like to share today?
Mark: I was thankful to have you on my podcast. The alignment between what you write about has little failures. The mindsets under My Favorite Mistake podcast are incredibly aligned. There's important mindsets.
Can I read the coffee mug too?
Alisha: Oh, yes, the mantras, please.
Mark: These mantras. My friend, Karyn Ross, who was also one of my first guests on the podcast, who helped me think through and process this. This is really highly aligned to what you write about.
It says here on the mug four simple statements. I intentionally had the mug made. I typically drink my coffee right-handed. I'm not looking at my cartoony face. I'm looking at the mantras.
- “Be kind to yourself.
- Nobody is perfect.
- We all make mistakes.
- The important thing is continuing to learn from our mistakes.”
Those are helpful reminders to me and hopefully to others.
Alisha: Gosh, we all need to plaster that on our computer, our coffee mugs, our mirror. That's very poignant. Thank you for sharing that.
Mark: Thanks. Thanks for letting me share it.
Alisha: I've got one more question for you that I ask everybody who comes on the show. How do you live a life of abundance?
Mark: That's a great question. I love the idea of…I don't want to live life as a zero-some game. Scarcity mindset. I win. You lose. I don't like that. I do try to practice more of this abundance mindset of if we all help each other, we all win.
We can grow the pie instead of splitting up the pie differently. An example is, you and I are demonstrating here, where I don't see your book is competitive to my podcast. I want people to read your book. People who read your book then may in a way through learning about you and think then they may learn about my podcast.
That sharing and then you having me as a guest on your podcast, is maybe one reflection of abundance mindset.
Alisha: My girlfriends call that ‘coopetition', where the places where there might be traditional competition, where we're talking about the same things but if we collaborate we actually make each other better. I love that you just highlighted that, once again, for me and how beautiful that synergy can be.
Mark: That podcast group that I mentioned earlier is an example of trying to foster that abundance mindset. Look, people have limited amount of time. Our podcasts are competing for people's time and attention.
Sometimes, we're competing for guests. Sometimes we have the same guest on multiple podcasts, but this idea of helping each other out is something I appreciate. Even going back to 2005, when I started blogging in the space around Lean manufacturing.
I could think of, off the top of my head, there were maybe four or five other bloggers who were part of that era, where we may have had the five most popular blogs in this space, partly a matter of being early adopters of blogging.
Within that group, I can't remember at one moment, where people weren't incredibly supportive and promoting of each other instead of competing and trying to tear somebody else down. I've been fortunate to be part of groups like that.
Alisha: That's awesome. Mark, thank you so much for being on the show. It's really an honor and a pleasure to have you here.
Mark: Thank you, Alisha. I really enjoyed it. Thank you.
Alisha: A huge thank you to you for tuning in today. Let's do it again next week. In the meantime, I have got a quick favor to ask. If you enjoyed today's show and know another woman who needs to hear this episode, too, could you share it with her right now?
Just text her the link and be sure to let her know why this episode is a must-listen. Remember, sharing is caring, so spread the love.
Thank you so much for being a part of this “Yoke and Abundance” community. I do it all for you. I hope these episodes make you feel seen, heard, and loved.
A huge thank you to our sponsor Fike + Co. Thank you to Ira Sterling of Julia Sound Recording for our theme music. Thank you to my editor, Tumaini Johnson, of Ehphex Media for his work on today's episode.
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