When my son turned six months of age, we held a dedication ceremony for him. He was at that uber-cute stage at which he could sit upright and grab at things with fat little fists, but crawling was still on the horizon. 

For weeks, my wife planned the event, fussing over every detail and taking great care to get it all just right. On the day, she dressed him in his finest little outfit, confirmed a few last minute details with the venue, then drove off to pick up the cake she had ordered. 

The cake was beautiful. More costly than anything you might buy in a store and made to her exact specifications, it bore a beautiful interplay of white and blue icing, with the design of a cross embossed on top, and our son’s name proudly written across the front. And misspelled. 

The lady who created it to order had transposed two letters in our son’s name. 

On the face of it, this may not sound like a terribly big deal. Surely, an expert should really be measured on the excellence of the cake itself? But it brought my wife to the brink of tears and very nearly ruined the day. 

‘How can we even use this?’ she said. ‘The whole family’s going to be there. All of our friends. And his name is wrong. We may as well not even bother.’ 

The lady from whom she collected the cake was aware of the error, and apologised for it offhandedly, but pointed out that everything else had worked out nicely. 

Later that week, she sent a message asking us how we’d enjoyed the cake, oblivious to the drama she had caused and hoping for a good review. She even posted a photo of her cake, with the misspelled name, on social media, as an advertisement for her services. 

Here is how the cake-lady’s orientation was wrong: For my wife and I, the day was about our son. And the cake was there to honour him. For her, however, the cake itself was the point, and a misspelled name was no big deal. 

I have seen this fundamental misunderstanding of how the world works in many professionals. Take the example of the top-notch photographer, who takes breathtaking photos of a bride and groom on their special day, then spells the bride’s name wrong on the photo album. 

There is no coming back from such an error. It doesn’t matter how good the professional’s work may have been. The cake may have been excellent, the photos beyond compare. It’s irrelevant. The customer will still think of this service provider as a rank amateur, and will (I promise) aggressively discourage others from using their services. 

The cake incident may seem a small thing. But it was the one great blight on what was otherwise an excellent day. And my wife will not recall the taste of the cake or the creativity of the design. The only story she tells is about the lady who misspelled her son’s name and then left it that way. And still charged her for it. 

To become a leading expert, you need to do more than simply create with excellence. You must also understand the point of your creation. 


Douglas Kruger is a professional keynote speaker at conferences around the world. He specialises in disruptive innovation and expert-positioning, helping brands to become more memorable than their competitors’. See him in action, or sign up for his motivational newsletter, at www.douglaskruger.co.za. Book him to present for your leadership team: email info@douglaskrugerspeaker.com