Getting it wrong

This One Time I Screwed up (or Sorry I Was a Dick)

I don’t think there’s enough analysis and sharing of non-technical mistakes for others to learn from (see a dramatic hiking trip postmortem).

It must have been a year or so ago now, I was sponsoring and exhibiting at a conference. Also exhibiting were a company I’ll call FooCorp from an industry that I have a strong distaste for. As delegates piled in, FooCorp’s team fired up this well oiled process of handing paper to people walking in. As a one man band, I felt a bit outdone.

I’d used twitter ads at events before, and so quickly I fired up a campaign. Trying to be edgy, I said something along the lines of “if you don’t want to be leafletted, and have your email added to a database, come and find me for a chat”. I can’t remember the exact wording, and whilst I don’t think it went any stronger, I can’t find the original copy so I can’t be sure. I thought “heh, why bother leafletting when this is so much more efficient”.

Learning from mistakes
Learning from mistakes

One might think “I don’t care about any companies in this industry, so this is a good approach”. One might think “I have no relationship with these people, so it doesn’t matter”.

Those points may be true (though these days, I have doubts), but I hadn’t anticipated the thing that happened next.

The conference organiser came up to me and said “Tim, we need to speak”, to their absolute credit took me to a private area and lividly explained that I needed to:

  • immediately delete the tweets
  • apologise to the people in question.

A wise or experienced person might have anticipated that, whilst I didn’t have a relationship with the FooCorp people, actually, lots of people around me, whose mutual support I depended on, did have a relationship with the people, and would like to continue to have one after the event. They might want to continue to ask FooCorp people to sponsor events they run etc. I realised that I’d failed to consider this point of view at all. That was poorly thought through. :(

When someone explains reasonably to me that I’ve upset people, and can easily avoid this, I know that I should do as they say.

Apologising to people face-to-face is hard. Apologising to people, who support an industry you have a distaste for, is harder.

But what makes it even more heart wrenching is when you notice that at the end of the day, they’re real people, trying to do good things, to help their children and families have a better life, and that I’d needlessly upset them.

As it turned out, my heartfelt apology wasn’t enough to undo the impression I’d already given them and I’m pretty sure that any memories that remain of me are about “that awful man”. 

Were one anticipating this situation beforehand, one might assume one would be comfortable with that if it happened. Instead, I feel sad that I had to learn this like this.

And I have learnt from this.

I could be chatting with someone whose sector I utterly, totally cannot endorse, and I aspire to treat them with respect and humility. I reserve the right to continue to dislike their sector, even them personally – but if I meet or interact with them, I’ll treat them with the same respect and humility I show to my friends.


So I guess if either of the two parties in the story are reading this – you know who you are:

Conference organiser: I’m sorry for putting you on the spot in front of your other sponsors and for behaving poorly. I massively appreciate your approach to resolving this. You had a multitude of options, and you took the most professional route, and allowed me to do what I could to right the situation. For that, I’m forever grateful.

To the people of the company I’ve called FooCorp: I know I ruined your mood for the day, and I’m really sorry I wrote those tweets. I wish I could have done things differently now, but what’s done is done, and a lesson has been learnt. I’m sorry that my learning that day was at your expense. As you can hear, it’s a lesson I vividly remember many months later, and I hope it’s one I never have to relearn. Thanks for talking to the conference organiser and allowing this to be resolved in the manner it was. I really appreciate your professionalism under the pressure I know and regret that I put you under.

How are you?

When people ask me, off the cuff, something simple like:

“How are you?”

I sometimes find it hard to know how to reply.

Obviously, partly this is an age old “I’m human, you’re human, we’re both alive” statement with no deep meaning, but usually there’s also a genuine feeling of “let me know if you’re seriously upset”.

Usually when asked I’ll respond,

“Good, I think”.

which most people, quite reasonably think is a fairly strange response.

The problem is that I don’t generally think about how I am – if I was upset or happy about something 5 days ago, it won’t be at the forefront of my mind.

I’m sure I can’t be alone in this, and it feels like this one of the bits of our culture that doesn’t really make sense.

TL;DR: I insist on responding accurately to an age-old greeting practice.

“Hi I’m An Engineer”

I’ve blogged in the past about my difficulties in explaining my job as a Systems Administrator to my parents

Sadly, this also applies to most other people who don’t work in an internet related field… and even more frustratingly, I don’t have the time to explain it all to those who really want to understand.

I know I’m not the only one who suffers from blank looks and misconceptions when I talk about my day job, so this video really hit home.

For the first time in his life, Khai is about to attend a speed dating session. Not knowing what to expect, he is led through a journey of discovery and surprises.

“Hi I’m An Engineer” by CREATE Film Festival

via Dan Smith