🎭 Owning up to your mistakes

19 April 2022 · Updated 12 August 2022

Some self reflection on owning up to your mistakes.

A few weeks ago my business partner Jakob mentioned that I have issues with owning up to my failures.

I didn’t have any big fuckups, of course. It’s just the matter of communication when I do something wrong. For example copying the wrong DNS-Entry while migrating a domain to Cloudflare - it’s nothing big, but when Jakob asked me about it and told me it’s wrong, I didn’t say “Sorry, I made a mistake”, I said “DNS changed”. 

This resulted in an argument between us, which got me thinking, why I didn’t communicate it better.

🛠️ Over the last few months at mindnow we've been hard at work building a content/music platform for a big TelCo and a Ticketing Company - fixing bugs with the team and making sure everything works properly on a very tight schedule. 

🤖 When you’re constantly surrounded by problems, your sense of “I made a mistake, I need to apologise” gets dulled and you’re just solving one problem after the next without even thinking how it’s perceived by others. Owning up to mistakes requires you to take a pause, be vulnerable and communicate transparently.

Even then you have thoughts like - I shouldn’t have made a mistake, I did everything right. Loose the perfectionism - shit happens, even the brightest minds do stupid things sometimes, so statistically speaking - you will do stupid things also.

💡 Being transparent requires you to be vulnerable. Admitting mistakes is hard - explaining how you came to be such a dum-dum is harder. But this builds trust over time. You might assume that if you talk about your missteps publicly - people will curse you and condemn and think less of you as a person. That’s wrong.

🧭 If people can see the whole journey up-to the point when everything went wrong, they sympathise with you. I just recently read a post about httpie/httpie library that got taken private and lost their 60K followers on GitHub, just because the author made a simple mistake. And he explained how it ended up being a disaster - people sympathised with him. There’s much support when you take accountability publicly.

🗿 Whenever you do something bad - decouple your feelings from the situation - your EGO might be hurt, your pride bruised, but these are irrelevant in the moment and will do more harm than good. When you’re analysing - assume you’re just debugging a program that has just thrown an error. what happened exactly? why it happened? How can we avoid that in the future? No emotions - only observations.

Making mistakes is natural, get used to them and communicate properly, in the end it’s not just you who’s affected, everyone around you also deserves to know what happened and why.

  • Seb

    Instead of playing the blame game, you transform your mistake into a teachable moment, boosting that whole fail-fast, learn-faster vibe. Plus, it’s a solid move for team trust – you show you’re human, they feel safer to experiment and innovate.

  • Rosa

    I once botched a server migration badly. Instead of hiding it, I owned up immediately. That move surprisingly improved my team’s trust in me. We now discuss mistakes freely, boosting our problem-solving skills and innovation.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been a CTO, just like you, with many years under my belt. I’ve learned that owning up to mistakes is not just about personal integrity; it’s a leadership skill, you need to cultivate it. In the tech industry, where the pace of change is rapid, and the pressure to perform is high you need to set an example that mistakes are not just inevitable but are stepping stones to greater achievements

  • Jeff

    I constantly juggle the need to maintain a risk-averse environment while encouraging my team to innovate and take calculated risks. The key takeaway for me is the importance of owning up to mistakes in a way that doesn’t deter risk-taking in the future. The team needs to feel safe to admit errors without fear of retribution, but also understands the importance of learning from these mistakes to avoid future risks.

  • Rob

    As someone deeply entrenched in the tech world, I’ve seen my fair share of blunders, both personal and from others. What resonates with me in this article is the emphasis on transparency and vulnerability in admitting mistakes. In software engineering precision is often prized above all, acknowledging our human fallibility can be tough. But it’s also liberating and crucial for growth. This approach is not just beneficial for personal development but also for fostering a collaborative and innovative tech environment. We all make mistakes, we are but humans.

  • Lucas Martin

    I messed up a script run last week, thought I’d triple-checked everything, but turns out I missed a crucial step, resulting in downtime. Panic mode, right? But instead of trying to fix it quietly, I owned it up to my team ASAP. Turned out, sharing my mistake openly got us to a solution faster.