Important to remember — for third graders and PR pros alike.

My daughter arrived home a few days ago with a bright poster that read:

Mistakes are proof that you are trying.

We talked about it and I agreed whole-heartily that we have to always try in life, regardless of the perceived outcome. We chatted about her learning to ride a bike and how she always seemed to be falling and crashing in the beginning. If she had stopped at the first mistake, then she would never have moved on to enjoy riding a bike. I went to bed feeling very comfortable with the idea of mistakes.

Then I awoke to the Google news.

As you may have read, a contractor to Google mistakenly released Google’s third quarter earnings, which sent the stock plummeting, reporters scurrying, and PR professionals tummy’s sinking. Ouch!

I, for one, can never read of a huge, public failure without pausing for a moment to wait for that sickish feeling to pass. When a mistake of that magnitude happens, most PR pros can’t help but thank their lucky stars that they were nowhere near the scene when that went down.

The company cites “human error” as the reason for the early release of the quarterly earnings, which means someone dropped the ball big time and has probably lost their job, pending an internal investigation. Everyone seems to be keeping their cool publicly, but, seriously, what happens to the pro who loses the Google account? Probably nothing good!

The comments online varied from “stuff happens; move on” to “OMG heads are going to roll” to “mayhem.” To make matters worse, it seems that the news hit during a previously scheduled press conference for another Google product, which ended with reporters leaving to cover the breaking financial news. Double PR ouch!

We are human and we make mistakes. But in this instant access, push-to-publish world, do we build mistakes into the plan?

Psychotherapist Mel Schwartz, L.C.S.W., says we live in a world where we focus on being instead of becoming. An environment of economic competition emphasizes that approach to the point that we no longer have room to become anything. Growing and changing inevitably require mistakes and missteps, which no one seems to tolerate, let alone plan for and embrace. We must always be The Best at all times. For large corporations, striving for perfection seems like a competitive advantage, but is it realistic?

I believe in flawless execution. I would actually change that to my middle name if my mother would let me. It is what I require of myself and of others. It is also why I am unhappy so often. Being a perfectionist is not easy, nor is it fun. But the reality is that there is no place in this world for mistakes. No one wants to hire someone whose elevator pitch includes a focus on regularly screwing up.

I personally used to go to great lengths to avoid making mistakes, until I had a boss that corrected me. He said that he wanted to see my best first effort, not my best after 15 revisions, five days later. He trusted me to do my best and said that I had to trust him if I wanted to improve. Few CEOs approach business in that way. He is still my favorite boss.

So, what was your biggest mistake? Where do you draw the line on risk? What would an organization look like that both planned and embraced mistakes? Maybe we should ask ZipCar, Fab.com, and GlassyBaby. ~ Jules

Jules Rules on Mistakes:

:: Congratulate yourself on your failures; that’s one less lesson for you to learn.

:: Don’t just be prepared to admit mistakes, be prepared to make them.

More on mistakes:

:: Mistakes Happen
:: Housekeepers, Politicians & Wieners, Oh My!
:: When It Doubt, Kill The Messenger Because They Are Lying!
:: Pity Toyota PR ~ Guest Blog Post by Elissa Freeman

5 thoughts on “Do We Have Room for Mistakes?

  1. Another awesome piece. Nice to read a longer essay.

    You’d think a company like Google, whose fortunes, like all publicly held companies, turn in large part on the public’s perception of its performance, would maintain a virtual stranglehold on financial information and its management by contractors or any other stakeholder(s). That a company that’s proven itself as savvy as Google could manage such a monumental screw-up is proof positive that communications professionals need to be involved in every aspect of a company’s business operations.

    Guidelines for interacting with the public should be clear and consistent regardless of a company’s position in the marketplace. And what’s a contractor doing with that kind of valuable information, anyway?

    We see these gaffes and we cringe because we’ve each been there: we’ve made the mistake or we’ve seen the possibility of the mistake and have been prevented from acting or have otherwise been incapable of acting. When an organization is designed to operate as a top-down concern and neglects the public-facing aspects of its business (or, in Google’s case, businesses), what you find is numerous unoccupied coops where metaphorical chickens come home to roost. The moral, as always, is to get buy-in and input from the c-suite on the value and importance of PR practitioners and ensure a company is culturally suited to emphasize the importance of a well-oiled PR machine.

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    1. Thank you. Nice to have you back as my unofficial editor.

      The contractor, RR Donnelley, has a pretty sound track record dating back to 1864, so I am sure that Google felt their details were safe and would be handled appropriately. I am torn and still full of questions: Does this error tarnish a perfect 147 year record? Should it ruin the company? I hope not. But, I can totally see how this would push Google to end the relationship.

      I don’t know the details of the error, but it seems like someone hit send instead of save and sent it out early. A well oiled public relations machine, with buy-in and all sorts of value placed on PR could still find itself in a similar position. My point is that no matter how well-oiled, mistakes happen. It’s what we do after the mistakes that speaks volumes. I don’t think Google did anything wrong and I think that there are plenty of procedures in place at RR Donnelley. It was just a mistake.

      What do you think?

      ~ Jules

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      1. Morning, Jules. Thanks.

        I certainly see your point. That said, one of the reasons a company like RR Donnelley stays in business is its attention to detail. You’re right, however: one mistake does not a sundered relationship make. Still, a mistimed e-mail causing a severe dip in a publicly-held company’s stock price? Yikes. I suppose I won’t go so far as to to call it a fatal error but…goodness. And yes, as with any bit of adversity it’s in the handling that we find the true measure of an individual. Or company.

        I wonder if all the fallout has fallen out, as it were.

        In short, it appears we agree in the main, that adversity can make or break a company irrespective of its history and track record. I focused on the importance of PR and a company’s perception and how that can influence capital markets.

        Always a pleasure.

        Benjamin

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  2. An oldie but goodie, I was so thrilled to get such positive feedback on this archived blog post! A new friend emailed and had this to say:

    Jules:

    I am on my way out the door but wanted you to know that I read your blog from 2012 on do we have room for mistakes. The right words at the right time. Looking for work necessitates resumes and reassessing past professional choices. I am a perfectionist as you describe yourself and was comforted by your insights and those of the CEO who would rather have your first best effort than 15 revisions. It was important to me to stop for one minute before my appointment and let you know that words are uplifting and healing. Thank you for yours. ~ L.

    Well, L, you made my day! And yes, we have room for mistakes. We just have to give ourselves and our teams room to make them, learn from them, then forgive and forget them.

    Like

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