A protocol for moving forward:
0. Double check the work to make sure that there are no other problems within it.
1. Alert the relevant parties.
2. Take responsibility for what went wrong. This doesn’t mean that you intentionally did it wrong, or that doing it right was part of your job description. It means that you know something went wrong, you’re unhappy about it, and you accept responsibility for letting it get by you and you accept responsibility for making sure it won’t happen again.
3. Apologize. Not because it’s your fault, but because the incident cost other people time or money or upset them, and you’re sorry that they have to deal with that.
4. Come up with a plan to ameliorate the impact of the problem. If you can’t come up with a plan, say so and ask for suggestions.
5. Come up with a plan to avoid the problem in the future.
6. Gather feedback.
7. Thank everyone for their patience and goodwill.
Either that, or you could hide, dissemble, blame, shuffle along, scowl, depersonalize and then move on.
To walk lightly through the world, with confidence and energy, is far more compelling than plodding along, worn down by the weight on your shoulders. When we are light on our feet we make better decisions, bring joy to those around us and find the flexibility to do good work.
There are two ways to achieve this.
The first is take the weight away. To refuse to do work that's important. To not care about the outcome. Whatever.
The second is to eagerly embrace the weight of our commitment but to commit to being light, regardless. This is the surgeon who can enjoy doing brain surgery, not because surgery isn't important, but because it is.
The work is the work, regardless of whether you decide to be ground down by it.
It might be tempting to try to relieve yourself of responsibility, but it's a downward spiral, a path to banal industrialism. Better, I think, to learn to dance with it.
To take it seriously, not personally.
Twenty years ago, cookbooks were cookbooks. Almanacs were almanacs. There were no thrillers that were also coming-of-age diet books.
Twenty years ago, jazz was jazz and polka was polka. Jazz polka wasn't really a thing.
The reason is simple: The publisher of the work needed to get it to the store, the store needed to put it on a shelf and the consumer had to find it. Most of the time, publishers would push back (hard) on creators to make sure that the thing they created fit into a category. No category, no shelf space. No shelf space, no sale.
In our long tail, self published, digital world, there is of course infinite shelf space. And there is no retailer that needs to be sold, because since there's no shelf space issue, they will carry everything.
As a result of no one pushing back on the self-published writer or musician, there's a huge blurring going on. The design of websites, for example, is all over the map in ways that magazines and books never were.
Quantum theory posits that an electron is either here or there. Not in between. And for a long time, content was pushed into quantum buckets. But the shift to digital has blurred all of that.
Except that the consumer of content still thinks in terms of buckets. She's judging your podcast in the first eight seconds, "what does this remind me of?" She's searching for famous names, scanning the bestseller list, moving sideways within a category.
Yes, of course we need your post-categorization genius. We need you to blend and leap and integrate new styles to create new forms.
But while you're busy not being pigeonholed, don't forget that we pigeonhole for a reason. And if it's too difficult to figure out how to pay attention to you, we'll decide to ignore you instead.
Make your magic, and make it easy for us to figure out…
What is this thing?
What does it remind me of?
Do people like me like stuff like this?
It's almost impossible to persuade someone that he's wrong. Almost impossible to make your argument louder and sharper and have the other person say, "I was wrong and I will change my mind."
Far more effective: Help someone make a new decision, based on new alternatives and a new story.
Arnold got it right in this passionate invitation to (re) think about our future.
I'm not good at the last minute. It's really fraught with risk and extra expense. I'm much better doing things the first minute instead.
On that topic: If you're hoping for copies of my latest book, What To Do When It's Your Turn, delivered in time for holiday gift giving, you'll need to order it by the end of day tomorrow. Thanks for sharing it.
Quitting slowly doesn't serve you well.
At work or in anything else you do, people will remember how you ended things. All in, then out is the responsible way to participate and to end that participation. Too often, we seduce ourselves into gradually backing off, in removing ourselves emotionally and organizationally, as if making ourselves unuseful for a while makes it easier for everyone.
Professionals bring their A game to work. Every time. (Rare sports analogy: this is how good hockey players skate. Full speed, then stop.)
Of course you will need to close things down, quit your job, move on someday. The responsible way to do that, though, is not to act things out while you agonize over a decision. Decide, give notice, make the transition work.
Dropbox fell into the gradual trap with the Mailbox app they published for the Mac. They didn't support it well for nearly a year, and the last iteration of it broke many of its features. It's as if they wanted people to quietly disappear so they would have an easier time shutting it down.
If you want people to believe your promises tomorrow, it helps if you kept them yesterday.
Before starting, a question: Will it help?
Like holding a grudge, or like panicking, whining rarely helps. If anything, any of the three make it far less likely that you'll make progress solving the problem that has presented itself.
And, like knuckle cracking, it's best enjoyed alone.
Why add new products, hire new people, increase distribution?
Is it to please the shareholders?
Or your customers?
Investment costs money and it wants a return. But your customers don't care about that.
Use capital wisely, because sooner or later, you work for it, not the people you set out to serve or the market you sought to change.
Are you doing your work for an ordered market? A region where there is stability and rules and predictable outcomes? Some examples: selling to people who have purchased before, entering a market with established competitors, contributing to a media ecosystem that works in mostly predictable ways…
The alternative are blue sky arenas where unpredictability is the rule, not the exception.
Most of us don't live and work on the frontier, and we plan our lives accordingly.
Life on the frontier brings its own rewards (and risks) but there's never an advantage in imagining that it's stable. It's hard to be surprised if you establish up front that you're likely to be surprised.
It helps to know the rules of physics in the universe where you are choosing to live.
If you seek to please 90% of your potential customers, all you need to do is the usual thing.
To please half the remaining potential market, you're going to need to work at least twice as hard.
And to please the next half, twice as hard again. It's Zeno's paradox, an endless road to getting to the end.
So, a letter with a stamp gets you on time deliverability 90% of the time.
Priority mail gets you the next 5%, and if you want to be sure of reaching just about everyone in a trackable, reliable way, you're going to have to step up and pay for a courier service. (And note the expensive part… you often don't know which people need to be couriered, so you have to pay to do it for everyone).
The rules apply to more than fulfillment. They apply to bedside manner, to customer service, to effort and originality in the kitchen as well.
Cheap food, quickly served, will please 90% of the audience. You'll have to invest in quality, preparation and service to get the next half, and then double it again for the half after that… etc.
Health care works the same way. 90% of the patients will respond to a treatment, but the next 5% will cost twice as much, and on and on…
The very end of the curve, the .5%, might be unpleasable, uncurable, unreachable without insane effort. Which is why organizations that please everyone are so extraordinarily rare.
One approach, which some organizations use, is to redefine your usual systems so you are able to please most people without your team going through a Herculean sprint every day, and then (this is a key element as well), eagerly and regularly apologizing and giving refunds to the one in 150 where it just can't be done.
Perfect is nice, but you can't afford it. None of us can.