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How to learn from your mistakes when PlayingPumps don’t work

I came across a very interesting story a few days ago that I would like to share with you today. Tom Murphy is the man behind the story and it reminded me of how too often, we come up with very good ideas that seem innovative and fun, but at the end of the day, these ideas do not really deliver the results we really were looking for. How do you learn, and recover from mistakes you’ve made and take your business, projects and dreams into right direction that will produce desired results? That’s what this story is about. Here is how it goes:

A few people got together and came up with the idea of a merry-go-round that will connect with a water pump. Since kids love playing on merry- go-rounds their playful, fun loving activities would be the power source by which water is pumped to the town’s reservoir making water available for the entire community.

This innovative technologically savvy project was supported and praised by Laura Bush and AOL co-founder Steve Case and gladly received by communities across the African continent.

The PlayPumps would cost four times what a regular water pump would and Aid workers would soon discover that they broke and were very difficult to fix.

Nevertheless, the idea of this innovative, fun and creative venture seemed to be the beginning of a new day, a more creative and technologically savvy way to deliver safe and clean drinking water to many communities throughout Africa.

Across the board, project managers, supporters, donors and the communities all agree that this was a great idea.

Unfortunately, what the project managers did not take into consideration was the fact that kids would have to abandon classes, stop doing their school work and homework for at least 27 hours a day to meet the target of delivering water to 2,500 people per pump.

It is fun to play, but who wants to play that long?

Reading the story and how it unfolds, there are four things I learn from Tom’s article on how the Case Foundation handle the situation. Five ways you can take your projects from failure to fruition. Let me bundle the first three:

Test it, shelve it or scale it
No matter how cool it might be, test it before you launch it. Expand the vetting process to people outside of your inner circle. If it doesn’t work, you have the option of shelving or improving on it. If it does work than give it wings and let it fly. But don’t launch it without testing it. Don’t shelve it without improving on it. Don’t scale it without being absolutely sure it will succeed.

Denial is not your best friend
In case it doesn’t work, that is not the end of the world. Acknowledge that there is a problem. Be candid, frank, honest and transparent with yourself about the project’s flaws. Than, take responsibility in addressing every problem. You cannot afford to be defensive, closed minded and inflexible. Set your ego aside and look for what’s best by listening to criticism and acknowledging the problem.

Monitor regularly
Keep your eyes open. Be proactive not reactive. Anticipate problems. When you do, you stand a better chance of effectively dealing with the problem. Set in place a system to maintain and improve on your projects. Remind yourself constantly why you are doing what you are doing. Keep it simple, and let your goal be the motivating factor. If there are things that hinder you from reaching those goals, don’t hesitate to cut them, not matter how cool, innovative or technologically savvy they are.

This entry was posted in: Leadership


There are three things I think about every moment of everyday... they consume me deeply. How to: 1. Refine my theological understanding 2. sharpen my ethical rigor 3. and heighten my devotional intensity. These are the things I write about. Welcome you to my blog... Join me on this incredible journey of exploration and discovery of all the things God has in store for His children. Join by following or subscribing. I appreciate your thoughts, comments and friendship. Walter

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