Misery does love company and, because of that, no one organization or employee has to worry about being all alone when “blundering.” History offers us many life-altering mistakes, and they cast great shadows in which we can hide away should we need to save face or save butt.
• Decca Records Turns Down The Beatles:
On New Year’s Day 1962, The Beatles auditioned for Decca Records’ brass. Disinterested, the label rejected the Mop Tops with the now infamous line: “We don’t like your sound. Groups are out — especially four-piece groups with guitars.” To magnify the blunder’s infamy, Decca instead decided to put its industry muscle and money behind the other band that auditioned that day: Brian Poole and The Tremeloes.
• Western Union Rejects The Telephone:
In 1876, Western Union, one of this country’s most powerful companies, had a monopoly with the telegraph, the high-tech device of the day. Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the new telephone, offered to sell the patents to Western Union for $100,000. Unbelievably, it declined this perfect business match, sending Bell this hall-of-fame wrong-headed letter: “After careful consideration of your invention … while it is a very interesting novelty, we have come to the conclusion that it has no commercial possibilities … What use could this company make of an electrical toy?” The loss of this financial opportunity is incalculable.
MISTAKES vs. BLUNDERS
First, a reminder about the nature of blunders and why you won’t see a list of solutions you can employ against them here. Blunders, by our definition, are not just scaled up versions of a mistake. Actually, they are not mistakes at all — they are a special breed of error. Mistakes happen every single day, in every kind of environment, by every kind of worker or manager (regardless of I.Q., level of engagement or the general workplace environment). Blunders are extra special and especially bad.
Often, we can wipe out most mistakes by inventing airtight processes and sticking with them until they become second nature. Blunders are big errors right at birth (i.e., shipping a package to Paris, France rather than Paris, Texas, or hitting “Reply All” for the second time in a week after you’ve composed a second horribly sarcastic retort). Another sign of an authentic blunder … when you’re told of it, you let out an audible GASP followed quickly by you saying, “Oh my gosh!” and/or “How did that happen?” The errors that qualify as blunders nearly always have an element of shock to them, buckling the knees of the Blunder-Maker. If you’re still fuzzy, picture a flow chart … a blunder is a shocking wrong turn that takes you right off the page into nowhere.
Why Stopping Blunders Is Unlike Preventing Mistakes
The antidote to huge blunders is difficult to effectively share since combating blunders is very often a company-specific task. Becoming more blunder-proof also involves a re-embracing of guiding business practices and principles that may not seem very progressive. To further complicate matters, blunders involve decisions and acts that are often nonsensical and, therefore, difficult to repair by implementing a new specific process. Blunders are a special breed of mistake that requires a near-fanatical approach if you hope to eliminate them completely (which I would argue that you must!). Blunders happen when there is fertile ground for the impending whopper to enter a ready-to-bloom state.
There are many reasons why blunders happen in business organizations, but I’d like to concentrate on just one cause: ineffective communication. This alone causes the vast majority of our troubles with blunders.
Communication Breakdown. The more time spent studying business issues the more apparent it becomes that communication is at the heart of both organizational successes and failures — the occurrence of blunders is no exception. Making it worse is the fact that when communication breaks down, we don’t usually know about it until certain patterns occur, delaying our response and the application of any fixes:
Poor Listening. Sometimes an important piece of the message or instruction is lost completely. Other times we mishear a section of the message and we fill in the blank (often subconsciously) based upon past experience fully expecting that we got it right. Yikes!
Lazy Language. It’s become a dangerous time for language as the methods for expression grow faster than our ability to command them (and turbo-abbreviation has become the norm); cell phones that drop out every third sentence, texting, e-mail, tweeter, instant messaging, facebook, skype, semaphore flag signaling, etc. — seemingly anything to eliminate actual person-to-person conversations. Too often our language is rushed, incomplete, woefully abbreviated, mistyped, devoid of the body language that ties it all together. The most frightening fact? Often one of the participants in a dialogue is not familiar or competent with the technology supporting the conversation.
DON’T BECOME LEGENDARY
Blunders hurt. If you pull a good one, there’s a chance that your company will become part of someone’s life story — the poster child for dopiness … the featured player in a story that people will always ask “the blunderee” to tell at a party. “Hey, Sam, tell everyone about the time that company made your kitchen countertop backward, upside down and in the wrong color!” There are so many other ways to become positively legendary; don’t take the Blunder Express.
Chris Traynor, Surface Fabrication magazine’s senior business columnist, is the director and knowledge scout for Whip-Smart Management Consulting LLC., Wayne, N.J. (www.whip-smart.com), as well as a board-certified senior professional in human resources (SPHR). Traynor has 25 years of experience in the solid surface industry as a consultant to fabricators, distributors, manufacturers and associated firms. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.