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Wednesday, 05 March 2014 14:57

Admit Your Mistakes: The Sorry Tale of the Burnt Underpants

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Expensive Underwear

superman_shortssuperman_shortsAbout 3 weeks ago we attended a dinner party. The hosts are brilliant cooks – so that’s always something to look forward to.  There was sufficient lubrication – in the form of exotic cocktails – to get the party started. And the people attending know each other well enough to by-pass the small talk which typifies (‘dullifies’?) business networking events.

Truth Serum:  Mid way through the oven-roasted goose, someone suggested the following. We each had to tell an anecdote about our “most embarrassing moment.” Following liberal doses of Truth Serum (erroneously labeled as ‘red wine’) the stories were great, including one very conservative couple getting caught having sex in a graveyard (What a stupid thing to do! Have they never seen a Dracula movie? Everyone knows that he hangs out in cemeteries nearly all of the time). My own story falls into the stupid rather than risqué category:

Napa Valley:  Consulting is a fashion business and we have to keep up with ‘trends’.  At the time this story took place, the hot topic in consulting was customer service.  I’d published a book on this and had picked up a couple of international jobs on the back of it. One gig was to run a week-long customer engagement programme in Napa Valley, California for a pharmaceutical company. Easy peasy.

Missing Boxers: Mid-week I discovered that I’d only packed 3 pairs of boxers. No problem. A quick rinse and all wardrobe deficits would be sorted. Washing completed, I looked around the small apartment for a radiator to dry the shorts. No dice; the place was fitted with underfloor heating throughout.  What to do? The kitchen had a small oven. Being a highly intelligent and innovative guy, I placed the underpants into the oven on a very low setting. They’d dry while I took a shower. Yes, despite sexist assertions to the contrary, men multitask all the time.  I got carried away singing & conditioning until an overpowering smell of burning forced me to run from the bathroom like Usain Bolt with added suds. The kitchen was full of toxic black smoke. The oven itself was a war zone; the elastic waistbands in the boxers had melted and dripped down onto the trays below, like some form of Alien Spaghetti. I looked at my watch. Dinner was in 11 minutes (in America, you’re expected to show up on time). That night I had the only Commando dinner that I can recall since early childhood.

Remote Location: The place we were working in was very remote. The next day I had to get one of the waiters in the hotel to drive 40 miles to a store and purchase new gear. It cost me exactly $100 ($20 for the boxers; $10 for gas; $70  to bribe the guy to sing dumb).

I’m Sorry: Contrast the above with an internal ‘investigation’ I was involved in. A serious error of judgement was made by an executive. He was smart, hardworking, good with people and so on. But he simply could not bring himself to admit that he’d made a wrong call. He put all his energy into coming up with 1,736 excuses to explain why an event occurred – none of which related to him in any way. And, he was fired – essentially because he was too stubborn to apologise. Now, defensiveness plays a positive role. It allows us to function and is a central part of human psychology. Like those big rubber bands around Dodgem Cars (the ‘bumpers’), defensiveness allows us to bounce back from a mini-crisis.   However, being clad in Rhinoceros skin is an over-compensation and is actually dysfunctional. You don’t get it right all the time and don’t need to pretend that you do. It’s not credible.

To my knowledge the last ‘perfect’ guy was Clark Kent. Assuming that you are not Superman (or Superwoman) you’re quite likely to do a few stupid things in an otherwise smart and successful career.  When you admit a mistake you demonstrate your humanness.  James Joyce reminded us that “Mistakes are the portals of discovery”.  While there may be some upper limit to the amount of mistakes which are acceptable, you need to overcome that addiction to perfection and join the rest of the gang. We are all ‘flawed diamonds’, imperfect specimens. Somehow, it’s comforting to know that.


Read 52382 times Last modified on Wednesday, 05 March 2014 15:08
Paul Mooney

Paul Mooney holds a Ph.D. and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Sociology from Trinity College, along with a National Diploma in Industrial Relations from the National College of Ireland. He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and is an expert on organisation and individual change.  His career began as a butcher before moving into production management. He subsequently joined General Electric and Sterling Drug in Ireland and the Pacific Rim.

He was the of President, National College of Ireland and is Managing Partner of Tandem Consulting, a team of senior OD and change specialists. Paul has run consulting assignments in 20+ countries. He is also the author of 10 books covering issues around organisation performance and personal change.

Areas of expertise include: • Organisational Development/Change & conflict resolution • Leadership Development/Executive Coaching • Human Resource Management/employee engagement

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