Tag Archives: mistakes

If you screw-up, own-up

Screw-upOne of the traits that strong leaders and credible advisers have is the willingness to ‘own up’ to mistakes they’ve made.  No one operating effectively as a project or program manager, or for that matter any type of manager making decisions can expect to be correct 100% of the time.

If you do something new some mistakes are inevitable. If you accept risks, some negative outcomes are inevitable. And time pressures increase the probability of error. And given project management is all about accepting and managing risks to create a ‘new’ product service or result under time and cost pressures – we probably have more opportunity to ‘get it wrong’ than most.

The generally accepted way to deal with ‘your mistake is:

  • Acknowledge it (“my mistake”)
  • Make restitution if needed (eg apologise)
  • Learn from it
  • Move on, only people who have never made anything have never made a mistake.

Conversely if someone makes a mistake involving you look for the best outcome rather than blame of revenge. We have discussed these concepts in a couple of posts:

https://mosaicprojects.wordpress.com/2011/10/01/mistakes/

https://mosaicprojects.wordpress.com/2008/12/13/learning-from-your-mistakes/

What is rare is a really good example of the basic steps outlined above being implemented.  This changed with a publication on page one of yesterday’s Age (also reported in the Sydney Morning Herald). What could have been a bitter and dragged out defamation case – you probably cannot be more insulting these days than incorrectly accusing a Muslim of being a terrorist – both The Age and the aggrieve person applied common sense and resolved the issue in a way that would appear to have left everyone ‘feeling good’ and with a sense of closure, not to mention thousands of their readers.

If you missed the item, you can read the story at: http://www.smh.com.au/national/fairfax-media-says-sorry-20150303-13ttpd.html

Mistakes are inevitable – strong people deal with them in an appropriate way, The Age’s example being exemplary.  This is a salient lesson we can all learn from.

Making a TV Show

This weekend we went to see the taping of the last ever episode of ‘Good New Week’ (GNW) – a comedy program we’ve enjoyed for years. Unfortunately all did not go according to plan (a topic we have discussed in other posts).

There were two sessions of 2 hours each with an hour’s break; we were booked to attend the second session starting at 5:00pm. Technical problems in the first session meant the second session did not start until after 6:00pm and generated a host of problems with some good learnings……

First, once the problem became apparent, the queue for the 5:00 show were told of the delay and the time to come back – good communication and good decision making (we went for a drink).

Second, the star host of the show, Paul McDermott apologised and explained the cause of the problem before starting the second session – admitting a problem and apologising is a great starting point; see: https://mosaicprojects.wordpress.com/2011/10/01/mistakes/

Then the show had to be taped out of sequence because several of the panellists also had their own shows to give as part of the overall Melbourne International Comedy festival. A lot of the re-organising was done on the fly but again as far as possible the audience were kept informed.

With all of the disruptions, our 7:00 dinner was delayed to 9.00pm (but we kept in communication with our stakeholder’s in the restaurant).

Thinking back on the experience one lesson learned is to extend a quotation often attributed to Otto von Bismarck (the first Chancellor of Germany) to the making of TV shows:

“If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made*”. This definitely applies to taped TV shows and highlights the skill and luck needed for ‘live-to-air’ shows.

*Note: This quote probably was not by Bismark, there is a quote: “Je weniger die Leute darüber wissen, wie Würste und Gesetze gemacht werden, desto besser schlafen sie nachts” (The less the people know about how sausages and laws are made, the better they sleep in the night) attributed to him but not referenced, an earlier version “Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made” was said by American poet John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1877).

Mistakes!

Experience is that marvellous thing that enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it for the second time and fortunately we all have a wonderful capability for accruing experience! It is almost impossible to do anything new without the probability of mistakes occurring.

A mistake is an error in action, calculation, opinion, or judgment caused by insufficient knowledge, poor reasoning, carelessness or a misunderstanding or misconception. Examples include forgetting our passwords; eating more food because it is served in a bigger bowl and overpaying for gym memberships and phone plans.

We all tend to:

    • Look but not always see: when we look at something we think we see all there is to see, but we don’t. The eye’s area of clear vision is a cone of about 2 degrees – the size of a 5 cent coin (or quarter) at normal viewing distances.
    • We connect dots we don’t know we’re connecting, the sub-conscious mind does this for us based on preconceptions and stereotypes!
    • We wear rose-colored glasses and/or think the grass looks greener – our innate biases drive us to these errors (for more on ‘bias’ see: WP 1069 – The innate effect of Bias).
    • We are really terrible at really appreciating probability, perspective, size and shape – if you don’t believe these two table tops are the same size go to: http://www.michaelbach.de/ot/sze_shepardTables/index.html.

Shepard's Parallelogram Illusion

    From a stakeholder management perspective, the challenge is not eliminating mistakes – this is impossible, rather designing systems and processes in a way that will minimise unnecessary mistakes and accepting there will always be others that will require managing.

We can minimise mistakes by being aware we make them and avoiding the known traps and pitfalls. Joseph T. Hallinan’s book, Why We Make Mistakes is a good starting point.

Another impossible image by Roger Shepard

Dealing with the mistakes that occur requires acknowledgement of the error and appropriate actions to rectify the mistake. This applies equally to you, your team members and other stakeholders. The biggest mistake is expecting perfection (ie, the absence of mistakes)! The second biggest is failing to acknowledge a mistake once it has happened; as Confucius said “A man who has committed a mistake and doesn’t correct it is committing another mistake.”

So the next time the wheels fall off your project because someone made a mistake, rather than blaming the person, recognise mistakes are normal and be prepared to deal with ‘normality’.

Learning from your Mistakes

I have had to confront a couple of different aspects of people getting things wrong recently. The experience triggered 2 or 3 thoughts……

The first was the advice given last century by (from memory) Fred Daly MP to a new member of parliament ‘always leave the back door unlocked’ – no matter how sure you are of the correctness of your position in an argument always have a way to back out gracefully.

Every one wants to employ experienced people but very few employers tolerate mistakes…. To quote Denis Waitley: “Mistakes are painful when they happen, but years later a collection of mistakes is what is called experience” and Franklin P. Jones “Experience is that marvellous thing that enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again”. You cannot attempt something new without occasionally making mistakes – the skill is to use your experience to recognise a pending mistake early and short circuit the error.

Lesson’s Learned should be the repository of ‘other peoples’ mistakes that you can draw on to avoid repeating them yourself – as quoted in ‘The Knack’, “A smart person learns from his or her mistakes. A wise person learns from other people’s mistakes.”

And then there is the question of what to do about your mistakes. The generally accepted process for getting over a mistake is:

  • Acknowledge it (“my mistake”)
  • Make restitution if needed (eg apologise)
  • Learn from it
  • Move on, only people who have never made anything have never made a mistake.

In moving on though, make sure you take your enhanced experience with you.

One last thought from Helen Keller: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure.”  The same idea applies to making decisions; every decision you make may be wrong but in the long run no decisions are usually worse than wrong decisions and your decision may be correct (but it helps if you can leave the “back door unlocked”).