Whoops, I Made a Mistake, That’s All!

I was embarrassed. I wanted to bury my head in the sand. A song from my childhood ran through my head all day. Trying to find a moment of rationalization, or maybe justification, the lyrics made me feel better.

I had just made a post on a site for Yammer network administrators. Using Yammer that day, I had seen a new functionality appear.

I took screen shots of the new workings of Yammer. I carefully blurred out identifying names and email addresses, and I proudly made a post to the Yammer administrators group announcing what I had found. I was happy with the new functionality, but honestly, I was also kind of happy that it was me who found the new functionality rather than someone else. Actually, I made the post on two different Yammer related websites.

The replies began. “Thanks Larry, but that functionality has actually been in place for several years.”

“Whoops, I made a mistake that’s all, and mistakes can happen to anyone.”

The same reply, almost word for word, appeared on each website where I had posted what I thought had been my breakthrough discovery. My heart sunk. Yammer professionals, Microsoft MVP’s and Microsoft employees all saw my mistake. I could imagine them sitting in cubicles, corporate boardrooms and home offices all over the world laughing at my lack of expertise and experience. Shaking their heads in disbelief that such a silly mistake could be made.

Then right before my eyes I saw it happen, yes it happened. And I felt so bad.”

I realized I should delete my messages right away. If I just hit “delete,” then this whole ugly incident would go away. But would it? People had begun to reply. Even though I had begun a conversation with incorrect information, a meaningful conversation had begun. We talked about the benefits of this functionality (even though it was not new), and how it can be best used.

Effective use of Yammer results from transparency, and it encourages transparency. We are going to make mistakes along the way, and sometimes those mistakes will need to be deleted. Before a message is deleted, we should think about the benefits of leaving a “mistake message” online, clear for everyone to see.

Colleagues will see, in real time, that making a mistake is OK. Mistakes are not something we necessarily need to be ashamed of. We can learn from them. We can move beyond them. By making it clear that you yourself recognize the mistake by replying to your own post acknowledging the mistake, then the conversation can continue. People no longer need to be unsure of what you know and what you don’t know. Everyone can get back to work.

I recently wrote about a very public complaint was made about the Yammer network I administer. “Embrace the negative feedback when it appears. Shine a light on it. Express appreciation for it. Recognize the opportunity you have been given, and let the negative feedback work for you.”

The same could be said for our mistakes. If we can acknowledge the mistake, allow good conversation to happen as a result of the mistake and then move on, everyone has a chance to learn, everyone has a chance to grow.

For let us not forget:

“Anyone can make a mistake,
it happens everyday and you never know when.
The thing to do, when it happens to you,
is try to figure out, what went wrong,
and try a little harder to make it go right
when you start all over again.”


  1. Who among us can’t relate to this? Who among us hasn’t done this – and feels badly because it is so public, and is often among those whose opinion you value. Thanks for humanizing the commonality of it – and showing us how to take the lemons of these errors and turn them into the lemonade of rich discussions. BTW – making and admitting errors increases feeling of connections. Thanks, Larry!


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