Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.
1 Cor. 1:26-27
In your job, do you have a nightmare mistake that haunts you? That mistake that you probably haven’t even made yet, but the thought of which still wakes you up with a cold sweat? As a report writer, my great fear is shipping the wrong report to the wrong Sponsor. That’s like giving Pepsi the recipe for Coke, or posting all the source code for Windows on Slashdot.
When I first started working here, I spent some time worrying that I would send something to the wrong Sponsor. Eventually, though, we developed a fairly safe shipping process that involves multiple people, plus lots of double-checking, to ensure that everything gets to the right people. Also, I slowly gained confidence as a huge pile of Shipped Right reports built up behind me. Since June of 2006 I have invariably sent 100% of my reports to the correct Sponsor.
Until Tuesday. Then I sent a report to Sponsor X with Sponsor Y’s cover page on it. Thank goodness it wasn’t the whole report; none of Sponsor Y’s data went to Sponsor X. But confidentiality, that priceless Ming vase we protect so carefully, had been shattered. The cover page told Sponsor Y’s name, named their Super Secret Proprietary compound, and what analysis we had done. On top of the confidentiality breach, Sponsor X will naturally wonder, “If I’ve seen Y’s data, who might have seen my data?”
When Sponsor X pointed this error out, I wanted to crawl under my desk and die. My stomach sank right down through the floor. I felt sucked utterly dry, drained of any positive emotion and unable to summon even the energy to force my face to shape a polite smile. I sat with my head in my hands and breathed deeply, staving off a feeling of combined panic, despair, misery, and horror. Then I corrected the mistake, composed a groveling email to the Sponsor and sent it with a fixed report (she seemed pretty cool actually — just glad to get the right report, and not so alarmed at my horrific mistake). Then steeled myself and went to tell my boss’s boss.
She was less than thrilled. I managed to explain my simple error without breaking down—I felt more empty and horrified than sad—and provided her with both Sponsors’ information. Apparently in this type of case, Upper Management (definitely capitalized) calls both Sponsors to alert them of the mistake. Until now, as far as I know, Upper Management didn’t know I existed; now, they know I’ve made the kind of blunder that could lose us a client.
My boss didn’t speak to me for almost two days straight after that. I doubt the scientist whose report I messed up will trust me the same way he did.
Not the best week ever, by any account. It’s been difficult to trust myself shipping reports, but I’ve slowly resumed my normal working behavior. It’s hard to accept that human error occasionally creeps in, even into the most diligent worker’s life. But I’m feeling OK with it: I made a mistake, I did everything I could to fix it, and it’s done. I won’t ever do that again. So now I’m moving on, still writing and shipping reports, taking extra care that the right person receives the correct report. And it’s OK.
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