Boss Lady

How to bumble your way to success


Bumble bees seem to just … well, bumble … their way through life. But bumbling as a life strategy has paid off for many people.  It’s taken me to some interesting places, from acting opposite Guy Pearce in a top-rating TV show to writing a best-selling business book, to delivering a TEDx talk to a global audience. Bumbling has also been a strategy of choice for some of Australia’s leading startups too.

I recently wrote a book documenting the success stories of 50 of Australia’s top online entrepreneurs. I asked each a very specific question: “How did your business get started?”  Whilst some had meticulous business plans in place, most had nothing of the sort.  They bumbled. Take Paul Greenberg, the co-founder of Deals Direct, Australia’s first online department store. When he fled South Africa, all he could take with him was his family and a few belongings, including his beloved vintage guitars.

To make money, Paul sold his guitars on eBay. The first sold quickly, so he put another up. That sold too. Before long, he was selling anything he could get his hands on. Beds, bikes, blankets – you name it, he sold it.  Within a year, he had become one of eBay Australia’s biggest sellers. In January 2014 it listed on the Australian Stock Exchange, valued at $100 million.  Paul’s secret to success?  ‘We bumbled. We made it up as we went along’.

When I told my husband that I was giving a TEDx talk on bumbling, he said, “Bumbling? Are you sure?  After all, who wants to be seen as clumsy, awkward, and inefficient?

“No-one does, but that’s my point,” I said. “When we start something new that’s important to us, aren’t we ALL clumsy, awkward and inefficient?  When I learnt to drive, I was clumsy, awkward, inefficient; when our toddler first learnt to eat with a spoon, he was clumsy, awkward, inefficient; when you and I spent our first romantic night together…”

“Alright!” he said. “I get the point!”

Just as the bumble bee is essential to the fertilisation of our food, I believe the act of bumbling is essential to the fertilisation of our dreams. So when you next have the opportunity to pollinate a plan or fertilise a dream, act on it! Don’t wait for the conditions to be ‘just right’.  Suggest that crazy idea to your client even if you can’t quite articulate the concept, yet.  Ask that cute guy on the 7:19am train out for a coffee even if you don’t quite know what you’re going to say, yet.  Pay that co-worker a compliment even if you don’t know her well, yet.  Clarity and confidence come after you take action.

These ‘bubbles of bumbling’ are ephemeral and must be seized quickly or they’ll disappear like petals in the breeze, and along with it, your dreams.  Embrace the bumble.

About Bernadette Schwerdt

Bernadette Schwerdt is a dynamic presentation skills expert with a vast background in marketing and advertising. She has pitched for (and won) major advertising accounts including Apple, American Express, BHP and Colgate, so knows what it’s like to have to deliver under pressure. She’s a judge for the Inside Small Business Awards, Anthill Cool Company Awards and the ORIAs (Online Retailers Industry Association). A best-selling author, blogger, copywriter, and regular on ABC Radio and Channel Nine’s The Small Business Show, Bernadette has trained thousands of SMEs to communicate with clarity.

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