When Life Gives You Lemons

When Life Gives You Lemons

Three stories in which something went wrong, but something bigger went right

It’s never fun being sick with the flu, but if you’re down for the count anyway, binge-watching episodes of “Mad Men,” isn’t a bad way to pass the time. (Not that we’re, ahem, speaking from personal experience.) If you’re a fan of the show, you might remember the 1960s VW Beetle campaign was much discussed by the advertising guys. Back in the 1960s, as automakers built bigger cars for bigger families, the Volkswagen “Bug” was seen as too small, too slow, too ugly and too German. The now-legendary campaign actually played to these perceptions with headlines showcasing its status as a “lemon” and with witty copy that highlighted the benefits of driving a small, German (“well-made”) car. Lemonade Lesson:  Being true to who you are can flip negative perceptions. 

Here’s another lemonade story. In 1985, Apple Computer’s board of directors fired CEO Steve Jobs, the company’s co-founder. Instead of retiring, Jobs founded a new computer company called NeXT. Then, he became got involved with a little digital studio by the name of Pixar. When Pixar was eventually sold to The Walt Disney Company for $7.4 billion, Jobs became the largest individual stockholder in Disney. In the meantime, Apple purchased NeXT, brought Jobs on as a consultant, then interim CEO, and eventually permanent CEO. As a result of Jobs’ visionary rethinking of what a computer looks like and does, Apple introduced the iMac, the iPod, and the iPhone, making Apple the most valuable company in the world. Lemonade Lesson:  If you don’t succeed in one venture, use what you learned to start a new one.

Finally, there’s the actual lemonade story of Zoey and Andria Green, ages 7 and 8, who decided to sell lemonade at a stand outside their home in Overton, Texas. They wanted to raise money to take their dad to a local water park for Father’s Day, but unbelievably they were shut down by local police for selling lemonade without a health permit. While trying to figure out the proper permit required, the girls and their mother discovered a loophole: They could give their lemonade away for free and take donations! As a result of local media coverage of the girls’ difficulties, the water park where the girls planned to take their father gave them free passes and two local radio stations donated tickets to a local amusement park. Lemonade Lesson: If at first you don’t succeed, squeeze, squeeze again.  

Lemons are good for a lot of things. They can remove stains, soothe sore throats and brighten your whites. They can also be the catalyst for managing mistakes, changing perceptions or prodding us into trying something new.

This Week: What’s one “lemon” you’d like to leverage in the business? How could you turn it into an advantage?

Life will always have its sour parts. The question is, what can you do with your lemons?