Tag Archives: mistakes

Living and Learning

I firmly believe that if you’re not learning, you’re not living. With that in mind, let’s look at some things I learned in 2015:

Robot reading a book

That new technologies can tell stories — and what that might imply for the future

How not to enhance a brand — whether it’s your company’s or your personal brand

Sound advice on the art of estimating projects for technical communication (I especially recommend the two articles that are linked in the postscript)

The importance of connotations: of using words in the way your reader understands them, not in the way you think your reader should understand them (or as Mark Baker might phrase it, writing in a way that makes use of the stories you share in common with your reader)Advertisement in Swedish, with the English expression "No way!" prominently displayed

An amusing example of how languages evolve and interact with each other

The need for patience, and resisting the impulse to jump in and do it now

Pluto as seen by New HorizonsTwo essential skills for every nonfiction writer: knowing what to take out, and letting readers experience the story for themselves

Making mistakes, and learning from them


My most-read article this year, by far, posed the question What should a Technical Communication course teach? The responses to that article proved the need for a profession-wide conversation on this topic, but (alas) I don’t think the conversation has gotten off the ground. Yet.

Perhaps that’ll change in 2016 — a year in which I look forward to lots more living and lots more learning.

What was the coolest thing you learned in 2015? The most surprising thing?

Making mistakes and learning from them

The recently concluded World Series will be remembered for lots of things, including a surprising number of mistakes by the participants. We can learn from the mistakes we saw during those games — and we can take heart from them too.

In the eighth inning of Game 1, with the score tied 3-3, Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer mishandled a ground ball and allowed the Mets to take the lead. Much later, in the 14th inning, Hosmer drove in the winning run.

Eric Hosmer misplaying a ground ball

Eric Hosmer boots a ground ball…. {Source: thebiglead.com)

Lesson 1: Your mistake probably isn’t the end of the world. Hosmer didn’t brood over his mistake. He kept his head up and seized an opportunity to make amends. (He seized another opportunity in Game 5 when, in perhaps the most memorable play of the Series, he scored a crucial run with his daring baserunning.)

In Game 3, with two men on base, Royals pitcher Franklin Morales fielded a ground ball and thought about throwing it home. Then he thought about throwing it to first base. By the time he finally threw the ball — to second base — it was too late. The batter and both runners were safe.

Lesson 2: Plan ahead. Good baseball players know what they’ll do before the ball comes to them. We, too, shouldn’t wait until a situation arises before we know what we’ll do.

Eric Hosmer at bat

….and then drives in the winning run (Source: New York Times)

In Game 5 Mets manager Terry Collins decided to replace his tiring pitcher, Matt Harvey, after eight innings. TV viewers watched Harvey in the dugout, imploring Collins to change his mind. Collins relented. Harvey stayed in the game, gave up a walk and a double, and the Mets went on to lose.

Collins made a mistake by trusting his heart over his better judgment. He took full blame, saying “you gotta support your players once in a while” and “we’ll get better because of it.” Collins might very well be right. the Mets lost this game (and the Series). But perhaps their players gained a greater respect for their manager, which will pay off in the long run.

Lessons 3 and 4: When you make a mistake, own it. And don’t be afraid to trust your heart: the long-term intangible benefits might outweigh the short-term costs. While these lessons are true for everyone, they go double for leaders.

You and I try not to make mistakes. But they happen anyway. Why not resolve that next time you make a mistake, you’ll learn something from it.

What have you learned from the mistakes you’ve made?

Lowering the bar

I recently saw a job posting in which the first line under “Responsibilities” went like this:

….deliver [content] that engages audiences, and that is virtually free of spelling, grammar, and formatting mistakes

Misspelled road sign: shcool

S-h-cool? Hey, don’t worry. It’s cool.

Got that? The first requirement of the job – the number one expectation — is that my content will contain spelling, grammar, and formatting mistakes. Not a lot of them, mind you. But the word virtually ensures that there’ll be a few mistakes.

Look, I know we’re all human and we all make mistakes. But they set the bar way too low when they say that I — or the successful candidate, since I won’t be applying for this job — will be expected to make mistakes.

Even without the word virtually, I’m afraid that “free of spelling, grammar, and formatting mistakes” is still a very low bar. There’s nothing about making my content accurate, useful, and relevant to my reader. “Free of mistakes” diminishes who I am as a professional. It trivializes my work as a technical communicator.

I imagine this employer would have little use for the idea that technical communicators contribute bottom-line value to the business. Or for the idea that their customers deserve high-quality information. After all, a few mistakes aren’t going to matter.

What do you think? Am I overreacting? Or am I right to be offended by the attitudes that this job posting implies?

Keeping things dangerous

We project managers tend to think in absolutes. There are two ways to do something: the right way, and all the other wrong ways. So, for example, software has to be released according to a carefully crafted schedule. The schedule has to include time for rigorous QA testing. And so forth. That’s the right way, and all the other ways are wrong.

Or are they? Continue reading