It occurs to me this might be a good time to recycle this piece of advice I
have had some past occasions to offer some newcomers to the movement:
*So you've made a mistake and it's public...*
Understand that there is no point in pretending you have not made a mistake.
*Think* about the mistake you have made. What led you to make it? Were
you acting on bad information? Without sufficient information? On
intuition? Were you pressed by a deadline or by a strong opinion from
someone else? Were you following a broken process? Did you act on the
basis of circumstances you wish were the case rather than the circumstances
that are in fact the case?
(if it helps, consider writing down your answers to these questions,
Then, think about what can be redressed/undone/reverted about your mistake.
*Think* about the prospects of making this mistake, or a mistake of its
kind, again. How likely is it? Based on learning from this mistake, what
steps are you able to take to mitigate or reduce the odds of its
recurrence? Of those steps, which are you *willing* to take? Of those,
which can you take right now, before responding in public? Which are you
ready to commit to, longer term?
Armed with your best thinking from Steps 1 and 2, write a concise(!) public
e-mail acknowledging (as clearly and crisply as possible) --
a. that you have made a mistake
b. what the mistake was, as precisely as possible (e.g. not "I used bad
judgment" but "I neglected to look at relevant data before deciding to fund
c. what you have learned from making this mistake.
d. what steps you have already taken to redress the damage or undo the
results of your mistake.
e. what steps you are going to take to mitigate or reduce the odds of a
mistake of this sort recurring. (Include timelines for specific actions,
f. invite comments on your understanding as reflected in this e-mail.
Explicitly encourage people to tell you if they think you've missed the
point or if one of your intended actions is inadvisable, insufficient, or
can otherwise be improved.
Actually follow-through on the redressing/undoing actions and on the steps
you've committed to taking. Take steps to ensure follow-up on steps that
cannot be taken at once (e.g. if one of your corrective steps is to ensure
X gets discussed in your next Annual General Meeting, set appropriate
reminders to make sure that you actually discuss that by the time that AGM
1. Do not hesitate to ask for help at any step of this process. Either
reach out to people whose judgment (and discreetness, if necessary) you
trust, or publicly acknowledge you're having trouble with something (e.g.
"Hi, folks. I'm thinking about this mistake, and I have a hard time
figuring out how to balance the need for fresh data with the amount of time
it takes to generate and review that data. Does anyone have some thoughts
on how to best do that?")
2. In the public note, and throughout the process, be sure to *talk like a
human being*. Avoid jargon; avoid sounding like your note has been
prepared by a Damage Control Specialist. Just tell it like it is. People
know the difference.
That's it. It's not as hard as it sounds.
*Q&A: *(this part isn't recycled)
Q: Should I really go through this whole thing every time I make a mistake?
A: Ideally, yes. And it doesn't have to take very long, if you are in the
habit of being honest in your own mind. However, as with everything, apply
your good judgment, and use whatever abbreviated version of this you deem
Q: Wouldn't following this result in drama and upset the community?
A: No. On the contrary. Our community understands humans are fallible,
and responds *very well* to (what it perceives as) honest admissions of
error, commitments to improve, and (most of all) demonstrated learning.
Q: Still, there would be some drama, no?
A: Yes, there may be some drama, in the short term. Have we mentioned
humans are fallible?
Q: So, wouldn't it be better to silently learn the lessons and move on?
A: No. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, as Judge Brandeis observed.
Proper handling of mistakes is a sterling quality in anyone, and
particularly important in a leader or public servant of any kind. It pays
Q: What should I do when I see someone else is making a mistake?
A: When you see others making mistakes, help them *see* them (first of all)
and deal with them (e.g. by recycling this text, or by independently
offering your analysis and answers to Steps 1 and 2 above).
Remember you make mistakes too, and be tolerant of the time it may take
people to accept that they have made a mistake. (But you don't need to
allow them to insist they have not made a mistake.)
Q: But isn't it true that organization/individual X made a mistake and
didn't follow this process at all?
A: Yes, it's true. And how did that work out?
Q: So are you saying you always adhere to this yourself?
A: I try to, but I don't claim I always managed it.
Q: Are you suggesting this applies to current goings-on?
A: I suggest it applies to every situation involving humans.
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