“I was wrong.” Three words that are really hard to say…especially in public. In the business community and the marketplace it takes courage to admit mistakes.
A Famous “Oops”
One of the most famous business mistakes came when Coca-Cola tried to retire the “old Coke” and release a “new Coke” flavor almost exactly thirty years ago in April 1985. They shocked the world with a reinvention of their revered flavor. The company had spent millions in market research, taste tests, and focus groups and were certain it was time for a new approach. The backlash was overwhelming. In short order the company management realize they had miscalculated and three months later admitted their mistake and brought back what is now called “classic Coke.”
Editor and Agent Errors
Ask any group of editors or agents about their biggest “miss” and you’ll hear amazing stories. One of my favorites was an editor who worked for a major publishing company back in the 90s. One day that company had a meeting to consider a new product presentation. The editor recalled the consensus around the room was “Talking vegetables? What a dumb idea!” And that publisher (along with many others) turned down VeggieTales.
There are myriad of famous rejections in literary history. Everything from Harry Potter to The Lord of the Rings to the first five manuscripts by Stephen King.
When a Writer is Wrong
I’m not talking about incorrect research or a poorly constructed sentence. For the writer it can move into some difficult and quite personal matters.
1) Picked the wrong topic for their non-fiction book. One that had already been saturated in the marketplace
2) Didn’t listen to their agent or other counsel that their current work-in-progress novel wasn’t marketable
3) Expecting too much from their publisher and exploding all over their publisher’s inboxes while expressing displeasure
4) Blame Gaming… Blame the editor. Blame the agent. Blame the publisher. Blame the bookseller. Blame the economy. Blame Amazon. Blame the reader. Blame God (!?)
When to Admit it
Donald Keough, the president of Coca-Cola at the time of the 1985 re-branding debacle, talks about that event in his book The Ten Commandments for Business Failure. He writes “It pays to admit that you make a mistake, to admit that you are not infallible.”
As hard as it may be to admit “failure” in this business, sometimes it can be the best thing to do.
We don’t like to acknowledge that we failed. We prefer to present a picture of never-ending success, don’t we?
We don’t like to realize and confess that we lost our temper.
Or that we were too harsh in our criticism of something.
Or that we were impatient with someone who genuinely was asking for help.
Or that we let our ego get the best of us.
Or that we failed to listen carefully.
Or that we made someone else mad because of our unyielding position.
But when should we reveal such weakness? To walk around with “mea culpa” tattooed on our forehead isn’t the answer. In fact, that can end up being a form of false humility.
Obviously if you know you have wronged someone it is important to set things right, if possible. Clearing the air and requesting forgiveness are vital.
For most writers. In relation to their writing career and calling, the conversation is within. A soul searching conversation where admission of failure is generally viewed as weakness or “giving up.” Instead it may be better to see it as one of the foundations of learning through mistakes. Learn from them, recognize them as mistakes, and shape the next decision with wisdom and discernment.
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.
(James 3:13; Philippians 2:3; Matthew 23:12; Proverbs 16:3; Jeremiah 29.11; Habakkuk 2:3)