Three Incredible Lessons from the Wheaties Origin Story

Three Incredible Lessons from the Wheaties Origin Story

Have you ever made an irreversible mistake in life or business?

I certainly have. But one thing I've learned over the years is that even (especially) irreversible mistakes can lead to incredible success. When I think of irreversible mistakes, I try to remind myself of the origin story of the Wheaties cereal brand.

Remember Wheaties? When I was a boy growing up in the 1980s, I used to love eating Wheaties for breakfast! I was told it was the breakfast of champions and I really believed that. On the back of the cereal box, they would feature stories from time to time. One of the stories I read was about how the company that created Wheaties actually created it by accident.

Wheaties was created when somebody at the company accidentally dropped wheat bran mixture onto a hot stove in the year 1921, over a hundred years ago. The mixture started crackling and then sizzled into a crispy flake, and that flake became Wheaties. By 1941, just 20 years later, it was estimated that Wheaties had a whopping 10-12% market share of all the breakfast cereal in the United States.

Over the years, the Wheaties brand has broken many records, and it’s been one of the most heavily-endorsed brands of all time in all categories. Many super-star athletes have endorsed the brand throughout the years, dating back to 1934 when baseball hall of famer Lou Gehrig became the first athlete to appear on the box. When I was growing up in the 1980s, Michael Jordan appeared on the box 18 times. I guess that’s why I thought it was the breakfast of champions! All of that is from an irreversible mistake that happened a hundred years ago.

I’ve often wondered what would have happened if that person who dropped the wheat bran mixture onto the hot stove didn’t appreciate the result of his irreversible mistake. What if he threw it away, thinking it was worthless? Or, what if he wallowed in self-pity and didn’t take any further action?

You know after that initial mistake, the company had to experiment for three years and 36 attempts to get the exact correct formula that later turned into Wheaties. What if they didn’t follow through on those experiments, and what if they gave up too soon? The brand would have never been created, and the company would have lost enormous amounts of money and opportunity.

The only reason they turned that irreversible mistake into a multi-billion dollar opportunity is that they appreciated the process, the journey of getting to their destination. They didn’t rush through it. And they didn’t yell and cry and scream when they didn’t get it 100% right on the first try. They tinkered a little bit. And then they tinkered some more. And then after a few years of tinkering, they created a winning formula and a billion-dollar brand that lasted a hundred years.

There are three main takeaways for me here:

  1. Irreversible mistakes can lead to incredible success if we have the right attitude toward them.
  2. When we try to transform an irreversible mistake into a success, we may not get it right on the first try. And that's okay.
  3. Sometimes, not always, but sometimes, an irreversible mistake and our response to it can be THE defining moment in our life or business.