Recovering from a work mistake

You’re standing side by side with your colleagues, an audience of your peers waiting in eager anticipation for you to fall on your proverbial. You’re handed a key piece of information. A quick look makes your stomach lurch. You know that it’s wrong. Not just wrong but WRONG. Catastrophically, dramatically, career-changingly wrong. You check with your colleague who mirrors back the champagne-fuelled bonhomie and confidence that you remember from yourself all of five second ago. She nods. You shrug and forge ahead. Fifteen minutes later everyone you know is making the watercooler blush with a post-mortem of your most recent failure.

Sound familiar? If it sounds like a terrible night at the Oscars then you’re in the lucky camp, waiting (however unwittingly) for the other shoe to drop. If you just felt an echo of that stomach-lurch and a severe flare-up of your Powerpointophobia, then you’re in the much larger group of us that saw the train lights in the tunnel and ploughed on regardless.

So what would you do in Warren Beatty’s situation? The head-down, carry on regardless approach is the prefect anti-example. Ignoring the facts, ignoring your instincts, turning a sparkling evening into a mess faster that a puddle does to candy floss. Option two would have been infinitely preferable. A cooler head would have quietly consulted a wiser, more sober head, changed the envelope, apologised and given Moonlight the adulation it had earned.

But there’s a third way. Owning that mistake, keeping the La-La-Land gushers away from the microphone and years of sleepless nights to come, making a small joke that acknowledges your humanity and the inherent silliness of the whole event would have been just as headline worthy but with clowns recast as heroes.

So what could Beatty and Dunaway have done to stare defeat in the face and make it a friend?

Stay off the champagne

Well, it’s unlikely to be champagne, but after months, years, decades sometimes, incubating your pet project, you’re probably going to be intoxicated one way or another, and your enthusiasm and energy could well trip you up. Enthusiasm is great but ensure you’re powered by preparation. Have a contingency plan. What are you going to do if it is the wrong envelope? Have you run through the things that could go wrong?

Trust your instincts

If something doesn’t sit right – check. A moment’s awkwardness is nothing new in a presentation or meeting. A complete collapse is rare, but much more memorable. And It’s amazing how much empathy you’ll get for sharing that “Phew, almost!” moment when you DIDN’T run headlong into the canyon.

Use the assets you have

As you stand alone, eulogising about your project, you’re only one cog in a huge and complex machine. Whether you have a huge Hollywood machine behind you or you’re a one-person show, you should be able to refer to a less invested, less excited voice, either internal, or one of the thousand accountants behind you. This might practically entail asking trusted colleagues for a ‘once-over’ of the piece of work you’re due to present

Whether you’re in a job planning your foray into self-determined entrepreneurship or even those who have started working in network marketing part-time, it’s important to go through these mistakes, not to avoid them but to find a comfortable way of dealing with them when they arise.