We like winners. We care about who takes the gold medal, the Oscar, the Pulitzer. But what about all the people who don’t win? We forget about them—but Stephen Pile didn’t. In 1976, the journalist founded the Not Terribly Good Club of Great Britain to celebrate all those who shoot for the stars and land in the mud.
To qualify for membership, you had to demonstrate your mediocrity, or, ideally, your “special incompetence.” At meetings, members would discuss and show off their inability to do things. But the rules were absolute: no success. At the first meeting, Pile reportedly messed up big time by catching a falling soup tureen before it hit the floor. For this demonstration of ability, by his own bylaws, he had to step down from his role as club president.
Over the next few years, Pile collected some of his favorite tales of failure and published them as The Book of Heroic Failures: The Handbook of the Not Terribly Good Club of Great Britain. Pile’s twinkling sense of humor and the stunning ineptitude of his subjects were an ideal match, as in this story about the four firemen who tried to seduce the Loch Ness Monster:
"Believing that feminine wiles would lure the beast from the deep, they built a thirty-foot long papier mache female monster, equipped with long eyelashes, an outboard motor, and a pre-recorded mating call. ‘Sex solves everything,’ said one of the firemen. "Painted blue and green, the monster then set off in search of romance with two firemen inside steering. They traveled fifteen miles offering flirtation and mystery, but encountered only sustained hormonal indifference from the deep. There are two possible reasons. "First the firemen learned that their pre-recorded mating call was that of a bull walrus and so unlikely to interest the Ness beast. "Second the outboard motor developed a fault during the voyage. The monster went into a flat spin, veered off backwards and crashed prostrate across a jetty. "No girl is at her best under these circumstances."
Unfortunately, Pile had included a Not Terribly Good Club membership form in the back pages. As the book’s popularity grew, so did the club … thus violating another of its bylaws. In the face of such embarrassing success, Pile had no choice but to disband the organization.
Want to found your own chapter of the Not Terribly Good Club? You can pick up Pile’s book for less than $1. But really, all you need to do is keep on failing, and find someone to do it with you. Just don’t get too good at it.