As John Buckley points out, The saying goes, “If at first you don’t succeed… cover your tracks that you even attempted it!”
“I made an $8,000 mistake,” I told my boss when I worked at an Education Service Center. Instead of firing me, she asked me why. So, I told her:
“If I’d know what I know now,” I responded, “I wouldn’t have recommended we buy that software for creating database-backed web sites.”
“But you didn’t….”
“That’s right,” I said, “I just didn’t know what I didn’t know even though I was trying.”
Needless to say, she didn’t terminate me or reprimand me or even, scowl at me. Instead, she figuratively patted me on the back, and sent me on my way, to provide better service. From that conversation, I was able to create the first database-backed online workshop registration system for Area 20 school districts. It was a fantastic effort and I learned so much in that, later expanding on it when I moved to a local school district. They are still using some of that technology (obsolete as it is) to accomplish different tasks.
What process do you go through to let your boss know you’ve made an expensive mistake? As technologists, it’s easy to make mistakes people don’t know or understand. But is it OK to keep your mouth shut about them and not tell? I think not. We have to confess our mistakes as part of a process towards moving toward growth, to better understanding how we can do something differently.
While there’s always a list of things to get fired for, making expensive mistakes that are well-researched and intentioned isn’t one of them. Rather, it’s the cover-up we should fear, the decision that says, “You know, I made a mistake and I need to keep my mouth shut about it because I feared that I would be reprimanded, fired, etc.”
What we need is more bosses like the one I had. Maybe one who says, “Making mistakes is inevitable when you are trying to do new things. Do your best and we’ll support you in those efforts, even when a dead-end is the result. After all, when you think outside the box, you have to be prepared to fail spectacularly.”
Never be afraid to try something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark. Professionals built the Titanic.
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