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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Phillips

I messed up.


More and more in our society, and especially in our jobs, we feel under pressure to always be right. Even when we are wrong, we are seemingly taught to find the fragments of correctness that could exist and focus on those. In desperate situations, we might even make them up completely. We see this all the time. And it is not like it is just our coworkers doing it, or our friends exaggerating another one of their great stories. We see it constantly in the news. Our politicians defending comments or behavior contrary to their values. Lawyers arguing their cases for clients known to be guilty. Judges jumping through multiple logical loops to reach a conclusion they themselves prefer. Even the news anchors themselves insist that if a mistake was made surely they could not have known about it and those are not liable for their false claims.


To admit we are wrong does several things. First and foremost, it creates doubt. Not necessarily doubt in ourselves, but doubt in those who are observing us. If we reveal an instance where we were wrong, one begins to wonder if the observers will then start to question what else we could have been wrong about. As if our whole career was a house of cards, there is the worry that one gust blowing the wrong way could cause it all to come crashing down. It is the idea that mistakes reveal a weakness, expose us to damage. How can we compete with the Jones’s when they are so perfect if we are openly making mistakes? As a result, some chose to hide mistakes. Some look for flaws in others they can quickly identify so people might miss the mistakes they are making themselves. To willingly surrender the information that you made a mistake can at times seem akin to self-harm. If we are right, we will be rewarded. If we give the impression that we did well, we will be admired. If we make mistakes we can be punished. If we make mistakes people might lose faith. Our careers are our livelihood and the significance of which often impacts many others. What is the benefit to exposing our own mistakes?


“Fake it till you make it”. “A little embellishment never hurt anyone”. “We all do it”. Just a few common phrases that help encourage this behavior. Some I’ve even said myself as advice to others. Why? Because it helps our confidence. It encourages you to try again, or to even try at all in the face of adversity. But still, these efforts often rely on keeping at it and shooting for the goal. They do not encourage us to sit and reflect on our mistakes, and they certainly do not encourage us to share our mistakes. It is really a system that props up its own (false) self-importance and adds to this idea of us all being near perfect. This idea of being right, only focusing on what people portrayed as being desired or “correct”, robs us of one important aspect we all need to spend a significant amount of time on. What is the benefit to exposing our own mistakes?


Growth.


By acknowledging our mistakes, and then SHARING them with others we not only gain a better understanding of why we ended up where we did, but we can gain valuable input from others. Best yet, you then help others as they too can benefit from learning from your experiences. As children, our parents do not let us touch a hot burner and learn from the resulting burns. They instruct us not to and why. This protects you as a person. This makes you stronger. The family can now live happier. Your team at work is no different.


So, I messed up. Did I blow a big project? No. Did I waste weeks of worth? No. I made several small mistakes that resulted in a project going a bit past its deadline. I committed mistakes I should of known better or seen coming. I committed mistakes I’ve made in the past.


I am working on a project that is considered a high priority, involved multiple designers on our team, and affects several teams across the company. I was put in charge of conducting interviews by our UX architect. She drew up the research plan and interview guide and it was my job to execute them. She asked me to review the plan and guide and give my seal of approval, which I did. This was where I committed my first mistake. While she is my senior both in rank and in experience, I internalized that with my own bias that that meant her work was better than mine. The research plan had a few flaws, but I failed to scrutinize the work closely enough. This was on me because I was asked to find any and I let the idea of rank and years of experience hold more weight than my own knowledge and what was in front of me.


The mistake(s) were minor. We phrased a screener question that was clearly open to interpretation we had not intended. In another area I had missed setting a location-based screener default and did not catch it in the review. This led to multiple early sessions needing to be replaced because the participants did not match what we were looking for. The time wasted in those sessions was minimal, the bigger impact it had was there are only so many interview slots available in a sprint (3 weeks for us in this case). The mistakes were quickly addressed and a new wave of participants were signed up. It seemed there was still a bit of loose interpretation going on, so the screener question was further refined and then all participants were messaged to confirm they fit the screener question. This eliminated most participants that did not meet our criteria. Overall, I should have been more critical of the screener and added in additional questions just to be safe. Given our testers come from usertesting.com’s pool, there is no downside to creating longer, more involved screeners.


This leads me to the second mistake I want to address. I had accepted conducting 30 interviews in a 3 week span as doable. On paper, it certainly seemed that way. Even with some mishaps I knew there would still be time, but I was thinking optimistically under mostly best-case scenario. I should have allowed for more “what if things go wrong”. As a result, the deadline was approaching, and I was going to come up a few interviews short. Having learned from other prior mistakes, I made sure to reach out to team leaders so they were aware of the situation and explored avenues to minimize this impact.


My third mistake was the fact that I’ve gone months (6+) without doing these sorts of interviews. I’ve done hundreds, if not thousands of interviews by this stage in my career. It never dawned on me that “Hey, I might be out of practice a bit”. Now, all of the mishaps in the screeners, arranging participants, and even modifying the interview guide after the first few interviews were handled correctly, but that was only because I was able to quickly realize my mistakes and act on past experience to fix them. Truth is, if I had been more on top of conducting this type of research more regularly, I likely would have avoided making any of these mistakes. Now, did the past projects call for these types of interviews to be done? Not necessarily, but I could have looked for opportunities to utilize them if for no other reason than to keep my on my game and insure I deliver best when it counts.


So, long story short.


Just because someone outranks or is more experienced than you, do not discount your own chance for contributions.


Make sure to come up with a plan that allows for unexpected circumstances and not only that is following a set of ideal circumstances.


Practice.




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