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Wharton Digital Press  |  February 15, 2012

Error in Adrenaline Sensitivity Research Leads to Wharton Digital Press “Brilliant Mistakes” Contest First Place Win

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The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania announces Dr. Stephen Salzman of UCLA Medical Center is the grand prize winner of Wharton Digital Press’ “Brilliant Mistakes” contest. In partnership with media sponsor Inc.com, winners were announced today, marking the conclusion of a three-month challenge.

Three finalists’ submissions were reviewed by judges, including faculty from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, John Seely Brown, Co-Chair, Deloitte Center for the Edge, Inc.com Editor Eric Schurenberg, and the inspiration for the contest, Paul Schoemaker, PhD and author of “Brilliant Mistakes: Finding Success on the Far Side of Failure” (Wharton Digital Press). Entrants were challenged to submit an error that they committed and recognized as a potential source of learning or innovation, and then leveraged as a new concept or idea that helped transform a project or organization.

Dr. Salzman explained in his submission that throughout his medical career he believed that athletes, with lower heart rates, must be less sensitive to the effects of adrenaline. To prove his hypothesis correct, he conducted blinded research. Much to his surprise, the exact opposite proved to be true, forever changing his perspective, not only in the area of adrenaline, but throughout cardiology.

The second place winner, Annie Banannie, was awarded an Invitation to an SEI Center for Advanced Studies in Management conference. A performer for children, her entry detailed how insufficient preparation led to her best performance ever. She didn’t have her props, so she had to make up a story on the spot in front of an audience of 200. Because of the “mistake,” Annie is incorporating more improvisation into her act, one that is more successful than it ever.

According to Paul Schoemaker, some errors – referred to as “portals of discovery” – can lead to game-changing innovation. “We were pleasantly surprised by the wide range of examples submitted,” said Schoemaker. “It is difficult to mine mistakes for learnable moments or innovative ideas; these winners exemplify what can happen when an organization encourages extracting the most from mistakes.”

Matthew Lynch, the third place winner, explained that while working to identify Medicare fraud, he realized that only focusing on higher-than-average claims (conventional wisdom) was insufficient. With a team of others, he uncovered fraud activity by individuals and corporations who were uniquely adept at defrauding the system. The successes found in Matthew’s operation became an industry best-practice. He will share a lunch with Paul Schoemaker at the Wharton School.

Dr. Salzman’s prize includes two round-trip tickets on Southwest Airlines to anywhere in the continental United States and a Wharton Executive Education course. In addition, he will receive a complimentary registration for Inc’s Growco conference and an Invitation to Wharton Mack Center for Technological Innovation Conference.

The top-10 entrants received a signed paperback copy of Brilliant Mistakes. To learn more about the book visit the Wharton Digital Press Web site: Brilliant Mistakes: Finding Success on the Far Side of Failure.