Instinct, Giovanni, and The Rest of the “Accidental” Story


Baby Giovanni

I have 12 years of classical piano training.   In college, I had visions of getting a degree in Music and took some college level classes with that goal in mind.  Thanks to a professor who believed in me, those classes yielded an opportunity to perform as a soloist with an orchestra.  A music degree wasn’t part of my destiny, but, to this day, I love music and relish every opportunity that I get to play with friends.

A few of us at Cotton Babies are music lovers, so one day, we asked one of our designers to do print concept that would feature words describing musical dynamics. She had some fun with the idea.  After seeing a couple of color proposals, I approved one and it was sent off for digitals.  This process can take months, but eventually, the digitals came back, the print was approved and moved to plates.  I kept looking at the digitals and feeling like something was wrong, but finally decided that my hesitation was just personal preference.  Maybe this print wasn’t destined to be my favorite.  We’ve done a lot of prints that weren’t my favorite though.  That’s no reason to hit the stop button.  A year later, we finally received the fabric and the color was different than I’d expected it to be.  I still wasn’t a big fan of the print, but I thought maybe the color was the problem, so we reworked the tab and snap combinations to make sure that everything worked well together.  Those changes were good.  I still felt like something was wrong, but we pushed forward with production and named the product “Giovanni” after Giovanni Gabrieli, an Italian composer known for his early use of musical dynamics.

Giovanni diapers were arriving in our warehouse right in the middle of spring break.  Jimmy and I had taken our kids to a favorite place  in southern Missouri and were intentionally trying to unplug from life.  I’m a doula by night and a business owner by day though.  Merging the two ideas can be a little chaotic, but it’s incredibly rewarding to get to be present when a little one joins the rest of the world.  Some people love to knit.  Others run.  I help mamas have babies.  One night during spring break, I’d just crawled into a hot bath and looked at my phone to find a text from one of my moms.  It looked like we were going to be having a baby a few weeks early.  So, I got out of the bathtub and got in the car for the four hour drive home.  The next morning, as mom was laboring, I saw one of those “call me now” texts from the office come in.  At my next opportunity to step out of the room, I called them back and heard a voice you only hear when it’s a good idea to sit down before the conversation starts.

“Jenn, as we were working on the copy for the new print, we discovered a typo.  Crescendo is misspelled ‘cressendo’.  What do you want us to do?”

I felt sick.  Now I knew why I’d felt so hesitant about making these diapers.  I was staring at the problem the whole time and failed to see it.  I know how to spell crescendo, but had failed to see the error because of the font face used for that word.  Now we had a lot of money tied up in inventory and manufacturing costs with a product that wasn’t completely perfect.  Those are moments when you don’t react.  You stop and take a minute to think.

Labor was moving slowly.  I had an opportunity to call the office a few hours later and we quickly talked through a plan that would allow the print to be sold as a second quality diaper while also making fun of the situation.  Thankfully, musical notation includes a term to describe the pitch of a note modified from it’s original key…. a perfect description of what happened with this diaper.  The diaper became “Accidental”.

Interestingly, the baby that entered life on this side of the womb that day was named Giovanni.  His mama was blissfully unaware of the crisis that unfolded and resolved in the hospital hallways during her labor.  She didn’t know about our diaper.  Their family has a deep Italian heritage, and she’d always planned to name her baby Giovanni.  The name Giovanni means “God has shown favor” and, that day, it was true, not just for her family, but also for ours. A week later, the diaper that was to have been Giovanni, was delivered out of our warehouse “womb” and into the lively cloth diaper universe now known as Accidental… accidentally born on April Fool’s Day.  This time, the joke was on us.  The world laughed with us.  They laughed at us.  We laughed at us.  But all was well.  Because, in spite of something that could have been disastrous, we did have favor… and the diaper sold well.

As I look back on that whole journey today, I wish that I’d paid more attention to my instincts.  While reliance on Instinct can be a recipe for failure, I firmly believe that our core instincts can also be critical to business success.  Instinct gave me multiple opportunities to hit the brakes on this project.  Instead of pressing into hesitation though, I talked myself straight into what could have been a massive failure.

In Blink, Seth Godin writes, “Insight is not a lightbulb that goes off inside our heads. It is a flickering candle that can easily be snuffed out.”    I treasure the life that comes from my quiet places, but get tons of energy from being with people. In a world where self-doubt is an inconvenient lever used to propel way too much reflective thinking, it’s all too easy to give in and stop fighting instinct to quickly resolve that inward angst. Being a rare 50/50 on the introversion/extroversion scale  makes it so much more fun to go with the flow than to wrestle with those inward voices. This was a valuable experience that reminded me, once again, that those inward voices are there for a reason.  Next time, I will stop and listen to instinct until I’m certain of the way forward.  New rules.

Jenn is the Founder and CEO of Cotton Babies. She holds an Executive MBA from Washington University. She was awarded Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award in the Emerging Category for the Central Midwest Region in 2011. Among many other awards, she recently received a 2017 YWCA Leader of Distinction Award for Entrepreneurship. Jenn holds many patents on various inventions in a number of different countries and is listed as one of 50 Missourians You Should Know. She is particularly fascinated by languages, chickens, and children (she has four) when she’s not reading economics journals. Jenn offers mentorship to product developers at any stage in the journey from idea to shelf.