Fixing Your Mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes. When we make them, we often hide them, lie about them, or cover them up.  Instead of  spinning, hiding, or rationalizing a mistake, make it serve you. It’s not easy, but you can face and fix mistakes, then grow from them.

Here’s the step-by-step to face and fix mistakes:

eraser1. See the mistake. This sounds obvious, but the reason we make mistakes is  we don’t see it for what it is. We notice a mistake and immediately stop thinking about it, and focus instead on hiding it. That’s the dangerous part. See the mistake for what it is–a slip up you made because you drew the wrong conclusion, thought something wrong was right, or raced ahead too fast. If you don’t know what you did wrong, there is no second step.

2. Acknowledge your mistake. This is your mistake. Own it. You can’t fix it if you don’t own it. What is the root cause of the mistake–shortcuts, overwork, the wrong process? Find how it went wrong and you’ll know why it went wrong.

3. Develop a solution. Once you know how and why the mistake happened, figure out a solution that solves it. You are the only person who can do the best job of fixing your own mistake. You have more information than anyone else about your mistake. This should take minutes, not days. The solution may have several steps that need to take place over days, but you have to have a reasonable fix in place quickly.

4. Alert your boss first, team members second. Your boss needs to know about major mistakes before your team members. Smaller mistakes that your team members can fix in their normal workday can be fixed at that level. Going to your boss isn’t a fun task, which is exactly why you developed the solution before you left your office. If you dump the problem on the boss’s desk, you will be creating a panic situation and you will be responsible for using the boss’s fix. Your answer, because you are closer to the problem, is going to work better.

5. Know how to prevent the mistake. Besides acknowledging responsibility and knowing how to fix the mistake, you have to know how to prevent it from happening again. If your mistake is an emergency, this step needs to happen after the emergency is over. Preventing mistakes is the part where overwork– too many projects to be completed in not enough time–comes in. You can point out that you are concentrating on too many priorities and ask your boss to prioritize your workload. If you think everything is the same level of importance, you are headed for trouble. And you’ll be wrong. Not everything is equally important. That’s the short answer that leads to a big failure. Whether you need training, better communication, more responsibility, more authority and less responsibility, this is the time to point it out in a clear, tactful way.

—Quinn McDonald has made her share of mistakes. She developed the process of fixing them from experience. Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment, says Mullah Nasiruddin.


2 thoughts on “Fixing Your Mistakes

  1. Live like a software developer.
    1. Mistakes are inevitable. They’re also called “bugs”.
    2. The point is not to avoid bugs (see #1), the point is to find them and fix them.
    3. The “personal loop” of producing anything is to create a little, test/check/examine what you’ve done to find the bugs in there (see #1), and fix the ones you find. Then create a little more.
    4. Some of the bugs will be impossible for you to find during the personal loop. There are reasons for this but they’re not important. There is a way to find those bugs, too, and that IS important.
    5. The “group loop” of producing anything is to look at one another’s output and test/check/examine what’s been done to find the bugs, and fix the ones you find. Then do a couple more personal loops.
    6. Some of the bugs will be impossible to find during the group loop. There is a way to find them.
    7. The “big loop” of producing anything is to combine everyone’s efforts into a whole (not necessarily “finished” but whole, find the bugs in there (see #1) and fix them. Try this a few times then take it all apart again and do some more individual and group loops.
    8. Some of the bugs will be impossible to find during the big loop. There is a way to find them, too.
    9. The “public loop” of producing anything is to hold your breath, grit your teeth, and send your creation out into the world. To, um, find the bugs in there (see #1). You can fix them, too, but…
    10. You’ll never find or fix them all. Mistakes are inevitable.

    In big software development projects there’s often something called “the build”. That’s the “whole” and particularly in the early stages it doesn’t always, well, work at all. There’s often a regular meeting of everybody involved, and if your work contains THE bug that broke the whole works this week, well, everybody knows. Sometimes because you’re called out right in the meeting (sometimes there’s a riser or stage…). Accept the t-shirt or other memento you might well receive. All you can do is nod, smile, wave at the crowd and try not to break the build again. Which you may or may not be able to avoid (see #1). The important thing is to avoid breaking it THAT WAY again.

    If it helps, by the way, it has been mathematically proven that mistakes are inevitable. Really.

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