This One Funny Word May Be Killing Your Business


Hubris is defined as excessive pride or self-confidence. As a literary device, hubris is used as the tragic flaw of a main character and is the vehicle the author uses to tell the moral of a story.

In this story, we humans are the main character and hubris is our belief that we recognize and learn from our mistakes and naturally adopt practices to make us better at something.

In reality, recognizing opportunities to learn is one of the most difficult habits to form. We routinely make the same silly mistakes and often forget, or simply don't pay attention to, what we've done to be successful.

Depending on your profession, the consequences of hubris can vary from life and death to extreme embarrassment, and possibly even job loss. In fundraising and marketing, failing to take advantage of opportunities to learn can mean the difference between growth, stagnation, and in some cases, complete failure of your organization.

To help overcome this challenge, we work with organizations to put in place systems that help them identify and adopt new habits to prevent recurrence of mistakes and encourage adoption of things that work well.

Recognize The Opportunity To Learn

Before we can learn a lesson, we have to recognize the opportunity in the first place. With few exceptions, this is often easier said than done.

Learning opportunities can be in the form of mistakes we want to prevent or successes we wish to repeat. The former makes for an easier illustration.

Take the case of putting your hand in fire. Nature has given us a powerful feedback loop that is so severe we tend to recognize future opportunities to avoid repeating this mistake.

In marketing and fundraising, the feedback typically isn't so severe, and that's the problem. Many opportunities to learn are either very subtle or take place during periods of high stress or chaos when we tend not to notice them. When these individual missed opportunities are considered collectively and compounded further through repetition, the cumulative effect can have a significant impact on your organization over time.

Examples of less agonizing mistakes include typos in blog posts or newsletters, forgetting to account for conversion tracking in an ad or appeal, or using images in collateral that appeal to the wrong audience segment.

In cases where the mistake or win is huge, we're generally pretty good at remembering how to prevent or recreate the behavior, but the difficulty is in institutionalizing the lesson so that new or other members of the team also learn to identify the preferred approach or behavior.

Examples of more severe mistakes should make you cringe and include accidentally revealing the identity of an anonymous major donor, inadvertently offsetting name fields in a mailing list or eblast, and forgetting to book a popular event space on time.

Learning To Recognize Opportunities

Though you may invest in a system to help identify and learn lessons, it will be of little use if no one engages in it.

What we've found to be most effective is to celebrate the discovery and recording of learning opportunities. Depending on your company or department culture, celebration can take many forms—from public recognition to fun prizes—and the focus can range from quantity to quality of identified learning opportunities. What's important is that the organization captures and benefits from as many learning opportunities as possible.

Next Steps

  1. Begin celebrating the identification of learning opportunities.
  2. Create a simple system to capture learning opportunities.
  3. Establish a process for learning from the lessons and adopting new practices.