The joy of the happy accident

The joy of the happy accident

Change your Luck blog series – article 3
Guest author: Martin Hill, former International VP of Marketing, Epicor


One of the best parts of my recent career break has been the opportunity to develop my (limited) skills with watercolour. It’s been a long time since I picked up a paintbrush and it isn’t proving easy. Satisfying, yes. Easy, no.

With the luxury of time I’ve been able to explore the vast resources of the web, absorbing advice from much more accomplished artists than me. The advice is varied but there are common themes.

Don’t just start, first prepare to start.

The first piece of advice is nothing to do with paint. The foundation of a great watercolour is a great drawing. Composition, scale, proportion, perspective. Not where a novice like me wants to focus when I have dreams of a great masterpiece.

Second is to experiment. Copy techniques of others, find what works and how, what fails and why. Use their experience to build an understanding of the fickle nature of watercolour. Learn to layer and blend colours into the hues and tones you need, learn when to paint and (importantly) when to stop.

Watercolour is also about happy accidents. The effects caused by water, pigment and paper reacting to each other in unplanned and unexpected ways. Learn when to intervene and when to hold back, learn when enough is enough.

Finally, it’s about volume. You have to be prepared to sketch and sketch and sketch, paint and paint and paint. Learn to move spontaneously and make quick decisions. Practice will make perfect, but there’s a lot of failure on the way.

Satisfying, yes. Easy, no.

Can you ever know enough?

Is it possible to practice every conceivable technique with every conceivable variation in hue and tone? Transparent and opaque colours, staining colours, wet-on-wet, wet-on-dry, textures, brush techniques, paper types. The possibilities are endless and knowing enough to master watercolour can take a lifetime.

Who has a lifetime? I’m too impatient, but the web allows me to absorb the experience of others. Collectively we’re spending multiple lifetimes practicing and sharing our experiences with each other. Someone, somewhere, has tried it before and posted the outcome online.

Use shared knowledge to reduce your fails.

As a novice I know the value of knowledge and experience. As a marketer I know it too. When you read back over the advice above, imagine I was talking about maximising the return on investment of your campaign.

Build a solid foundation, know your market, your audience, your value proposition, your positioning, your message. Know it before you start building campaigns.

The difficult part comes when you have to practice and experiment, learn what works and what doesn’t, what has the best outcome, what destroys the work you’ve done before. As an aspiring artist I may struggle to accept it, but the stakes are usually much higher in marketing than in watercolour painting. Failure can be much more costly.

This is where you need a way of accessing the collective knowledge and experience of other marketers who have gone before, and of those who are developing new technologies and techniques. Unfortunately, this knowledge has significant value to those who have it and quantified performance information is very often confidential, or expensive.

Making a breakthrough by accident.

The infinite variations in value proposition, positioning, message, market behaviour, communication channel preferences, cultures and tactics make it impossible to predict every campaign outcome perfectly. Some marketers are fortunate enough to guess correctly. They get their masterpiece, but it can often be a happy accident.

The fastest way to success is to test changes to campaigns quickly and efficiently. Get the first washes of colour down, then layer and blend to produce the best effect. Rather than acting randomly, using collective knowledge and experience to pre-select choices will massively increase your success rate.

The gift of experience.

Rapid performance improvement of campaigns demands the rapid execution of multiple tests. Time is the enemy, resources are scarce and ROI is king. If you could access the quantified past experiences of other marketers, and a ready source of knowledge to replicate their experiences, why wouldn’t you?

A database of qualified and quantified techniques to improve the performance of any and all of the tactics you are using would be invaluable. You would pre-select those that have worked for others, focussing time and resource where it has most chance of success.

It would be just the same as me watching videos of watercolour experts, wondering how they make it look so easy, and then deciding to try it myself. I’m absorbing a little bit of their lifetime of experience every time.

Time will tell if I ever produce a masterpiece. I’d settle for a few ‘wow!’s. Where’s your next ‘wow!’ coming from? What chance do you have of a ‘wow!’ campaign?



In my next blog I’ll explore the relationship between marketing and gambling, and ask ‘Can we fix the odds?’.
If you missed Martin’s last blog post Surfing the next wave, you can read it here.