Under the influence, host Terry O’Reilly is penning a new book about small mistakes that lead to big things

Under the influence Host Terry O’Reilly is writing a new book on the benefits of mistakes.

my best mistake will be released on October 26th, 2021.

in the my best mistake, O’Reilly will share how some of the biggest breakthroughs and best-loved products started with a mistake. Some mistakes lead to dramatic life changes and new opportunities—and others seem minor, almost insignificant, until they result in a famous brand, band, or work of art.

Some high-profile examples that O’Reilly highlights are how a typographical error resulted in the Incredible Hulk’s iconic green color (he was originally meant to be gray) and how popsicles were accidentally invented.

“My best mistake will change your attitude towards mistakes and encourage you to accept mistakes and embrace the obstacles that can arise from those mistakes, leading you to unexpected breakthroughs and silver linings of your own,” said editor HarperCollins in the book’s description.

O’Reilly is an advertising executive, broadcaster and author of two other books,The Age of Conviction and I know that. His radio shows have been broadcast on CBC Radio since 2005. He currently moderates Under the influence. He lives near Huntsville, Ontario.

You can read an excerpt from it my best mistake under.


In 2004 I worked with Denny Doherty in a recording studio. He narrated a 265-episode radio series that our company developed to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Beatles’ landing in North America. As you may know, Denny was one of the founding members of the legendary group The Mamas and the Papas. Born in Halifax, Denny formed his first band at the age of 19 and left Canada in 1964 to seek fame and fortune in the New York folk scene. As told in the hit song by Mamas and Papas Creeque Alley, guitarist (and fellow Canuck) Zal Yanovsky and vocalist Denny would pass the hat after performing numbers in Greenwich Village. Denny soon met Cass Elliot, then in 1965 the two hooked up with married folk singers Michelle and John Phillips.

The rest is dreaming California.

Working with Denny was always fun because he had the best stories to tell between takes. He was part of the ’60s pop, rock and folk scene and had crossed paths with everyone from Bob Dylan to my beloved Beatles. But I remember one story in particular.

He told me that John found out he was having an affair with Michelle Phillips. To punish Denny before actually confronting him about it, John had him sing a new song titled I saw her again. The lyrics were about sneaking around to see a woman you’re not supposed to see. As he made Denny sing over and over in the studio, John just glared at Denny through the glass, waiting for him to get the message.

Denny made a mistake while recording the final chant. At the 2:43 mark, he came in on the wrong beat. He sang “I saw her,” then stopped, realizing his mistake, waited a second, then continued with the chorus. When he was done recording he said, “Sorry about the mistake, you can edit it out.” But both John and producer Lou Adler said, “No, we won’t — we loved it” and kept it final mix.

That was interesting for me. It’s always been my favorite Mamas and Papas song, and that little moment of Denny – that little mistake – is my favorite moment in the song. I wait for it every time I hear it. When Denny told me this story, we talked about other mistakes in popular songs that turned out to be interesting moments. Like when Sting laughs at the beginning Roxanne because he tripped over a piano on his way to the microphone. Or the time when Sun Records producer Sam Phillips was recording The times have changed with Jimmy DeBerry, as the mics picked up the shrill sound of a phone ringing in the outer office — and Phillips kept it on the recording because the mistake “just felt right.”

Sam Phillips was chasing what he called “perfect imperfection.” He felt that failure in a great cause was infinitely better than perfection in a good cause. Paul Simon once said he was more intrigued by an interesting mistake than a safe move. I’m with Sam and Simon. When directing commercials, I always chose the shot that felt best, rarely the perfect one.

The people in this book have undergone almost violent life transformations, losing their jobs, their businesses and often their credibility – only to discover an even better life on the other bank.

The concept of meaningful mistakes that actually made something better was intriguing. My mind raced through all the stories I’d collected over the years, as well as the stories I’d shared on my CBC radio show about failures that led to multi-million dollar brands. I was particularly interested in finding two types of stories. First, stories about someone making a disastrous decision only to find out it was the best thing that had ever happened to them.

Second, stories where people made a tiny, unintentional mistake that was just a little to the left of the right, but that led to a breakthrough.

In the first case, the people in this book went through an almost violent life change, losing their jobs, their businesses and often their credibility – only to discover an even better life on the other bank. In the latter, people or companies made a mistake that seemed small, almost insignificant – and yet it was the beginning of famous brands or legendary bands or groundbreaking art.

In one case it saved lives.

Churchill once wrote: “One never can tell that bad luck may not turn out to be good…if you make a big mistake, it can very easily help you to be better than the best-advised decision.”

Sir Winston was right.

A raging forest fire often results in beautiful greenery sprouting through the ash.


Adapted from my best mistake by Terry O’Reilly ©2021. Published by HarperCollins.

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