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June 2002
Success Harmony Newsletter

"THE MISTAKE BOUNTY: Mistakes Wanted - Dead or Alive!"

It has been said that, by the time children grow up, they would have heard "no" 200,000 times or so. This may amount to a number five or ten times higher than the number of "yes" answers and encouraging words. No wonder that so many of us are so uncomfortable about hearing anything that sounds like criticism or a rejection of us or of our ideas!

The unfortunate part is that, by being closed to criticism, we close off a channel that can truly help us grow. This is the case personally and in our professional endeavours. By hearing of a mistake once, we can correct it and be done with it. When we don't know of a mistake, chances are we continue making it again and again, making it into a lifelong habit rather than a single error.

How about changing that and actually encouraging errors to be brought to our attention? Recently, I bought a product from a company that impressed me with their ingenuity in handling errors in their software. Web Position Gold understands that their computer programmers are human and that there is a high chance that there may be an undetected error, even after extensive pre- launch testing. So - they have a "$50 Bug Bounty" offer! They offer to give a $50 credit towards their software product to anyone who reports a bug that the company was unaware of!

What a clever idea. It does a few things in promoting a better relationship between the software maker and its customer (the same principles would apply in encouraging error reporting at work or in a husband-wife relationship): First of all, just the offer itself says that the quality of the final product is more important than the ego of the maker. How refreshing!

Second, especially true in situations of power imbalance (such as in a boss-employee relationship), the offer makes it more likely for a lower-ranked person to report a mistake to a higher-ranked person. This means that an error isn't swept under the carpet where it can cause major damage.

Third, the "mistake bounty" makes the reporting (and correcting) of mistakes less intimidating and actually more fun. "I'm here to claim my mistake bounty" sounds much different than "I'm here to tell you that you made a mess."

Fourth, the faster correction of mistakes results in faster and smoother growth. Nobody can discount the value of that in our competitive marketplace...

So, how can you have a personal and business culture that uses mistakes as an opportunity to grow? Here are just a few tips to think about:

  • Say "thank you for letting me know about this." Mean it!
  • If you find yourself about to react and explain away why you are right, stop yourself. Instead of talking, be curious and ask for more information when necessary.
  • Promise to look into the problem and to follow up.
  • Follow up, even (and especially!) if you conclude that no changes can be made. Few things are as frustrating as the uncertainty of an unresolved issue.
  • Say "I am sorry that this has happened." This does not necessarily mean that you are admitting fault - a mistake may have happened because of a misunderstanding, and it is very rare for someone to intend to do wrong. "Sorry" still goes a long way, even when nobody really is at fault.
  • Express your desire to correct the mistake and the causes that could make it likely for such a mistake to be repeated in the future.
  • Whenever possible, reward the person bringing the mistake to you. When a discount or something of material value is not appropriate, send a note or follow up with a "thank you" email or voice mail.


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"Be hard on the problem and soft on the people."
Ury and Fisher, in their book "Getting to Yes"

"If A equals success, then the formula is: A = X + Y + Z Where X is work. Y is play. Z is keep your mouth shut."
Albert Einstein

"If you want to be happy for an hour, take a nap.

If you want to be happy for a day, go fishing.

If you want to be happy for a month, get married.

If you want to be happy for a year, get a large inheritance.

If you want to be happy for a life, help others."

Chinese proverb




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© 2002 Pavla Michaela Polcarova, CPR Coaching Services, Vancouver, BC, Canada