In Part 1 of the Vulnerability blog, we introduced you to “Bad” vulnerability and “Good” vulnerability as it relates to the service industry and creating experiences, which is what Cowan Experiences does.

Bad vulnerability was defined as areas where there may be discomfort for your clients or guests, and it is entirely solvable with proper planning, awareness, and action.  A simple example is posting appropriate signage at your business to avoid confusion and prevent doubt in the minds of your guests.

Good Vulnerability is a healthy level of discomfort, which allows us to connect people.  It is not contrived, nor nefarious, but rather managed responsibly. It is necessary for participants or guests at an event to feel some level of vulnerability in order to have connection, trust, and camaraderie.  If done correctly vulnerability produces impact and value.

We Need Connection


One of the many reasons we travel with friends is because it is such an amazing bonding experience.  You are conquering uncertainty together; new adventures, foreign languages, new cultures, lost keys, distress, and exhilaration.  It is this uncertainty, that vulnerability and trust in others, that creates the connection.  It creates great value in our lives and our most cherished memories. We live to be connected, to be loved, trusted, and safe, and we are driven to be accepted.


Creating Impactful Events

We design events to create value, indelible memories, engagement, and ultimately be impactful.  Beyond communication, presentation, and content, the “gold” is in creating the genuine connections; between people, and between people and purpose (or products).  We need a healthy dose of vulnerability and uncertainty to make this happen. 

When injecting vulnerability into an experience the following equation is true:

  • Low vulnerability= low risk of failure, and shame but low impact.
  • Greater vulnerability= greater risk of failure, and shame, but a greater amount of impact or disaster.
Vulnerability Scale 2 (1).png

When we look at the diagram to the right, we notice that as the vulnerability is increased, the impact also increases.  However, the law of diminishing returns kicks in just beyond the peak, and we find ourselves falling into a disaster on the opposite side of ideal. 

Real World Example

A few years ago, I was charged with putting on a large Pro-Am golf event for the new company I was working for.  As a new business, we were looking for an organic marketing experience that allowed our guests to touch, feel, and experience our product first hand.  At some point, I thought that a special competition that got the group together would be worth investigating to create some camaraderie and an indelible memory about our brand.

What I came up with initially was a hole in one contest where everyone would get a shot at a huge prize of some sort.  We would do it under lights, have music, and really set the stage for some drama.  I did test runs for about a week when I realized the challenge was too tough to get the result I wanted, which was for someone to win, and for everyone to be excited about it. 

Not only was the task too tough, I realized it had the potential to be disastrous. Golf is a difficult game at the best of times, so the chances of someone succeeding under the pressure were low, which would deflate the crowd.  Most importantly, I was potentially setting participants up to embarrass themselves.  That provided no value and put us in the high vulnerability, disaster area of our chart. 

So I scrapped it.  What I came up with was this:


The Putting Contest

The challenge was to putt 1 of 3 balls into the 8” cup (larger than normal) from 130 feet away to win a prize worth about $20,000.   Like the original hole in one thought, we created an exciting atmosphere which fostered camaraderie among the participants. The contest had just enough challenge and vulnerability to make it impactful and likely fell on the high/mid-left side of the bell curve on our chart. 

What made this event more palatable was the lower skill level needed to have average success.  Even if someone was a nervous wreck competing, a larger group of people had enough talent and courage to make contact with a golf ball and get it moving towards the hole, which wasn’t a sure thing in our initial contest idea. 

The first few competitors received some friendly jeers from their compatriots for their lack of success.  The challenge looked easy, but it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t.  After about 20 competitors had gone, we finally hit pay dirt.

Conclusion of Sorts

Vulnerability was present naturally because we had an athletic competition.  We created the atmosphere where there was enough unfamiliarity; the glow balls, the lights, cameras, crowds, music, the emcee, and the alcohol (ok maybe the booze was normal) to make it all a little uncomfortable.  There was also the significant prize worth $20,000 and there were the crowds. 

There was also an invisible safety net in place…we were putting which is an easier skill than hitting an iron, the hole was much larger, and each competitor was allowed to have their Pro; a support system to assist them with the task.  The skill level necessary to make the shot was high, but the skill level to compete was low.  No one was going to embarrass themselves.  They may have left disappointed with their performance, but not put to shame, and that was vital.

When success arrived in the form of a 130-foot putt holed, everyone was elated.  There was an appreciation for the difficulty of the task and there was genuine happiness for the winner.  The right amount of stress, preparation, planning, and staging created conditions for camaraderie to happen.  Here’s one of the reviews of that competition.

“I’ve been to nearly every major global sporting event imaginable; Indy 500s, World Cups, Masters, you name it. Scott’s National Pro-Am was easily one of the top 3 events I have ever been a part of ...and not just in golf.” — Warren Linquist, 2013 National Pro-Am Participant

I subscribe to the “go big or go home” mentality, but it can bite you.  It will bite you.  Eventually, you’ll realize that you missed something or didn’t prepare properly.  These failures will become your expertise, so start small.  Take your time.  Do dry runs if possible.  Use your staff as participants in controlled environments. Visualize, do walk-throughs, and repeat.  Like any art or skill, it takes time to build your awareness, but you can get there.  And if I can help, please reach out.