Dealing with Mistakes

I hate making mistakes. Yesterday I made a mistake, sending an email to a few thousand people with a broken link. Doh. I had to spend a few hours scrambling and doing damage control, sending out a second email fixing the problem and dealing with some fallout from people using the broken link. It wasn’t a huge deal—nobody got hurt, nobody lost money—but it did cause some problems.

As much as I hate making mistakes like that and feel bad that it happened, there are always lessons to be learned.

Find Solutions
First and foremost, the best way to respond to a mistake is with solutions. Whenever my daughter is complaining about something I tell her to fix the problem or stop complaining. There’s no sense standing around whining about something. Either fix it or shut up (though I try to be a little more diplomatic than that).

As soon as I realized what happened I emailed my team and proposed a few solutions.

Be Responsive
I think the next thing you can do is be responsive to what needs to be done. I was going to say act fast, but I don’t think speed is always what’s needed. Sometimes we overreact to mistakes because we respond too quickly without thinking. But you do need to be responsive—answer emails, explain what’s going on, get on the phone if you need to. Be prepared to respond.

I spent the morning dealing with this, putting aside other projects so I could respond to questions as they came in.

Stop it From Happening Again
Once you’ve responded and fixed the problem, it’s important to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Is there anything you could have done to stop it? Sometimes we create layers and layers of checks to avoid mistakes and it gets to be too much. But sometimes a simple double-check can avoid the headache.

Look for the Silver Lining
Sometimes good things happen because of a mistake. In this case we found a bug thanks to the broken link. Sometimes it’s as simple as you learn to be more careful next time. But there’s always a lesson. I have another project that’s shaping up to be a failure (well, maybe not a failure, but it’s far from a success), but instead of shaking our heads and pointing fingers, we’re learning a lot of lessons.

If you’re not learning from failures and mistakes, well, you’re in trouble.

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