In case you’ve never heard of “Mythbusters”, the long-running hit show on Discovery Channel, here’s the premise. In each episode, five engineers (two lead engineers and three “junior” engineers) take on a common myth or urban legend and seek to either bust it or confirm it. Their myth fodder might include anything from proving if an arrow can split another arrow, as shown in many movies—or if you can get hardened concrete out of a cement mixer using TNT. The episodes are slickly edited in story format, taking each myth and its requisite experiments from beginning to end, culminating in one of three answers: Myth Confirmed, Myth Plausible or, of course, Myth Busted. There are extreme explosions, gobs of gook, mistakes, and plenty of laughs along the way.
What could your business possibly learn from a show about exploding cars, strange robots and electrical shocks? A lot actually.
Test, Test, Test
Despite their often explosive subject matter, lead engineers Jamie and Adam are huge safety advocates and test everything religiously before trying any experiment. As tempted as we may be as business owners to jump into new ideas with both feet, we can always benefit from a little testing first. Want to add a new product or service? Test the idea with a few existing customers first. Want to try a new marketing tactic like search advertising? Start small, see what happens. You may find that you can’t meet demand or, worse, there is no demand. Testing first can ensure you don’t fall flat on your face.
Learn from Your Mistakes
Some of the best moments on Mythbusters are the mistakes or miscalculations. A rope breaks, a platform collapses, a trombone slide impales a crash test dummy (long story). It makes for high comedy. But more importantly, the intrepid engineers learn from their mistakes and make adjustments for another attempt. How well do you or your company handle mistakes? Do you sweep them under the rug, never to be spoken of again—or do you honestly recognize the flaws in your idea or your planning and make adjustments? Smart businesses perform objective reviews of failures, avoid pointing fingers and, if the end result still seems worth going after, make some more adjustments to try again.
Have a Goal and Share It
The Mythbusters are laser-focused on the goal at hand. In one episode they attempt to build an actual, working lead zeppelin. The work is tedious—they use wafer thin lead sheets taped together in a large airplane hangar—yet refuse to stray from the goal of getting their contraption to float into the air. It can be easy for a business to lose focus and wander down unproductive rabbit holes, especially when everyone seems to be operating from a different game plan. In most cases, your ultimate goal is to please your customers. Does your sales department set customer service up for failure by over-promising? Does marketing set sales up for failure by not sharing the messaging they’re using with prospects? Everyone needs to be working toward the same clearly defined goal or something is going to blow up…somewhere.
Teamwork Can Prevent Disaster
With the exception of the episodes where Jamie and Adam compete against each other to build or destroy something, the engineers play to each others strengths and work as a well-oiled machine. While cross-trained in all things geeky, each member of the team has obvious strengths and takes on the task best suited to their abilities. Do you have a team or just a bunch of people performing different tasks? Are they unified behind common goals or are they operating in silos? How well does your team function? Is everyone being used in roles that actually suit their skills? Take a skills inventory of your team and then ask them where they feel they could be most helpful in business projects. Compare that with what you’ve seen in their daily work. Could people be utilized better?
Competition Can Spur Innovation
As mentioned earlier, Adam and Jamie sometimes set up competitions to see who can come up with the best way to achieve a result. For instance, they once competed to see if it was possible to train goldfish to swim through a maze, the myth being that goldfish have no memories. It was an epic battle and each came up with great solutions. When handled correctly, competitions and contests can be great motivators for staff. Trying to name a new product? Give everyone a chance and award a day off to the winner. Need to reduce customer turnover? Award a monetary prize each time a customer rep gets a customer to renew or add on a service. Make sure clear contest standards are put in place to avoid abuse. Sales contests are notorious for sandbagging and low-balling for the sake of a win. That said, a little healthy competition is a great motivator.
Get Expert Help When You Need It
The Mythbusters team members are very smart and they know it. However, they’re also smart enough to realize when they need outside help. They regularly bring in explosive experts, safety experts, and ballistics experts—whatever they need to make sure they’re giving a myth their best effort. Is your default behavior to try to always figure things out for yourself? It can certainly be a great way to learn something, but when real money is on the line, you’re sometimes better served by going to someone who has been there before. No one can do all things well. There might be someone in your own company, in your network, or an outside vendor who has done it already and can do it right the first time, saving you a lot of wasted cycles that could be spent elsewhere more profitably. If at first you don’t succeed, find someone who can.
As cool as the science can be, the real draw of Mythbusters is how much fun the team has as they seek truths. Practical jokes are common and most failures are met with hearty laughter and camaraderie (even when someone loses an eyebrow). Given how much time you and your coworkers spend together, it’s important to minimize stress and stave off burnout. A fun attitude is contagious, and a team that has a good time working together is felt by customers and prospects alike. Who wants to call into a support department where everyone spends the day being miserable? Try calling Zappos some time—their call center people enjoy their jobs and their coworkers. More importantly, their customer service is amazing because of it.
Speaking of amazing, you should see the Mythbusters’ episode where Adam tries to swim in syrup. Classic.