The Implications & Opportunities of Screwing Up

Oops! There it is.


It’s hard to say. It’s particularly difficult to admit when you’ve made a mistake in the business world. You’re supposed to know your stuff, execute it flawlessly, then repeat. But the truth is that there are humans, with life stories, behind those flawless executions. And humans mess up.

I hear it time and time again that, in this digital age, what is absolutely critical in communication is the person on the other end. And I agree. We are head down, thumbs fiercely firing away, deeply attached to our devices. We live in our robot-driven meeting spaces where we forget that there’s an actual man/woman/father/mother/daughter/brother on the receiving end. We a place of community without ever opening our mouths to speak or our having the luxury of seeing someone’s face and their true feelings.

The opinion of one customer can influence a following, for better or worse. Apologizing when necessary, and doing so sincerely helps to either solidify or sever your credibility as an organization. We all screw up at some point and that can be a turning point for your business so make it a turn for good. Be honest, be heartfelt and be mindful in the future to not do THAT ever again. Below is a process that can help you get past the baddest of blunders. (BONUS: This works in your personal and work life.)

Trace It, Face It, Erase It:

  1. Trace It: Look back and pinpoint where the error occurred and determine the implications. Where did you get off track? Where was the communication breakdown? It’s important to put your ego aside and look honestly. Trust me, it’s a hard one.
  2. Face It: How are you going to right this? How can you say sorry if you need to? Is a phone call best? Is eating the invoice the way to go?Admit your part in the process and own it. You know your audience and the best way to connect whether that’s a single person or a database of 2 million.
  3. Erase It: How can you learn from this, not let it paralyze you, and move on? Don’t deny that it happened, but don’t let it keep you from moving forward. The best lessons in life come from major mess ups.


Here are some good examples that made me feel a deeper human connection with companies who messed up, and then gracefully apologized.

Origins: “Oops! We made a mistake…”


ThredUP: “Whoops!”


Both of these examples gave me the “Oh! Me too!” feeling and also reminded me that these companies are not run by cold, rechargeable robots.

A sincere “I’m sorry for screwing up” can be an opportunity to connect. More importantly, it’s a chance for personal growth. Every designer I know has their first “big one.” The one where they forgot a letter in a headline and spellcheck missed it. And it got printed. On a billboard. On I-75. THAT never happened again. #NotMeThankGoodness

The next time you see me, have me explain why I’m so obsessive about telephone area codes.  I will blush and tell you how I messed that one up big time once. (The blushing is a byproduct of being a person.)

I’ll leave you with this quote from our pal, Ben, as you go forward with confidence and humility:

“Never ruin an apology with an excuse.”

― Benjamin Franklin

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