Owning up to misteaks

I am forced to admit that I am not perfect.

Within the last two weeks alone, I have:

  • Sent an email to a client invoicing the client…but failed to attach the actual invoice.
  • Contacted an opportunity, and (due to an editing error) referred to a DIFFERENT company instead of the opportunity’s company.

Obviously I am not eating my own wildebeest food (yes, I’m burned out on iguanas). While these were short missives which would have been significantly delayed if I had literally “slept on it,” I could have caught these errors if I had read my communications just ONE MORE TIME.

In the first case, the client alerted me to my mistake before I realized that I had made it. I have a good relationship with the client, so I just re-sent the message WITH the attached invoice and thanked the client for alerting me. I WAS paid.

In the second case, I had no previous relationship with the opportunity, so I couldn’t draw upon any goodwill. Perhaps I would have lucked out and the opportunity wouldn’t have caught my mistake…but I doubt it. I could have remained silent and just chalked it up as a loss, but I proactively apologized for the mistake. Perhaps I’ve lost the opportunity anyway, or damaged my chances severely, but it was the right thing to do.

Sometimes mistakes are intentional

I guess I could have used the excuse that I made the wrong company name mistake intentionally.

  • For example, the title of this post is an example of an intentional “misteak,” designed to grab the attention of the discerning reader.
  • And phishers and scammers often embed intentional mistakes in their pitches, figuring that if the reader completely ignores the intentional mistake, the reader is more likely to fall for the scam. Although I’m sure that this product (advertised in a game app) is NOT a scam, but is a perfectly legitimate product.

Actually, this mistake may have been TOO MUCH of a mistake. It took me several readings to figure out what “bad stars” was supposed to mean. (If you’re similarly confused, it’s supposed to be “bed starts.”) Then again, I’m not the target audience.

But I can’t think of a way to claim that I INTENTIONALLY messed up the opportunity’s company name. There goes that excuse.

Why to proactively own up to mistakes

Some people may have legitimate reasons for not revealing a mistake to someone else. Perhaps the person is a secret agent, and doesn’t want to let the enemy agent know that the information is incorrect. Or perhaps revelation of a mistake to a competitor could allow the competitor to take advantage of it.

But in most cases, you’re not a secret agent, and you’re not talking directly to a competitor. Therefore, it’s best to admit the mistake and not let it fester.

Laura Click of Blue Kite Marketing described an instance in which the company sent out an email but didn’t format the email correctly. As a result, their subscribers received a message that began:

Morning, <name>!

This was especially embarrassing to Blue Kite because it is a marketing firm, helping clients to better market their products and services. An error like this seems to suggest that Blue Kite doesn’t eat its own wildebeest food.

So Blue Kite Marketing sent a follow-up email. If you read the post that described the episode and included the text of the follow-up email, you will see that Blue Kite did the following:

  • Admitted the mistake.
  • Described how the mistake happened (without making excuses for it).
  • Noted that these mistakes can happen, even to seasoned marketers.
  • Apologized profusely.
  • Thanked the people who pointed out the error.
  • Used the episode as an opportunity to have the recipients update their profiles (“if you want to make doubly sure we know your name”).

The recipients appreciated Blue Kite Marketing’s honesty, and that email admitting the mistake resulted in tremendous engagement. As Blue Kite noted, an episode like this “builds trust and loyalty.”

Of course, apologizing for a mistake is not a guarantee that things will be better. We’ll never know, but perhaps one recipient was so incensed by the error that the person resolved never to do business with the company again. And in my case, I very well could have blown my opportunity by using the wrong company name.

But I still maintain that sincerely apologizing for a mistake is better than doing nothing at all.

And it could have been worse

But if I think about the two mistakes that I know that I made over the last two weeks, and all the mistakes that I DIDN’T know that I made over the last two weeks, and all of my other mistakes over the past few decades, they all pale in comparison to a mistake that I made about 15 years ago.

I was working for Motorola (pre-split) at the time, and if you know anything about Motorola, you know that Motorola is very big on process. Our little division at Motorola was working on achieving a particular Software Engineering Institute – Capability Maturity Model (SEI-CMM) assessment, and I was one of two people responsible for the Requirements Management Key Process Area (KPA). Our team would revise the division’s processes at times, and would announce these changes in release notes.

When I wrote the notes for a particular release, my notes made a reference to “qualtiy.”

Yes, that’s “tiy,” not “ity.”

Even <name> criticized me for that one.


After I drafted this post, but before I published it, someone sent me a “God job” message.

But the message came with money, so I didn’t quibble.

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