This story I am about to tell is one of the reasons Searchspring has the value of Fail fast and publicly.
It was 1999 and I was working on the launch of homedepot.com. It was the dot-com boom and I was working 14-16 hours a day as we rushed to get the site live. I had a pretty simple job, I worked with a consultant to process image files and take the master image and cut it up into the thumbnail, the product image, the PLP image, etc. He wrote the scripts, I tested them, and deployed them. We were processing thousands of images a day for the site.
The problem we had was we weren’t processing them fast enough, and the consultant was no longer with us. My boss asked if I could make the script process twelve images at a time instead of six. Seemed easy, just double the throughput of the script.
Without getting too technical, I made a colossal mistake and flipped a “<” to a “>”. It was an Office Space moment, sans making millions. I had no idea until the next day that increasing the throughput 2x was a complete failure. When I returned to the office I found that hammers had pictures of drills and drills pictures of screws. It turns out the mistake was cataclysmic and the website was a complete mess. We were processing images and labeling them wrong.
I had a decision to make and it is a decision that defines me today. I could have tried to hide the mistake, fix it, and hope that people didn’t see those images. Instead, I decided to come clean. I immediately told my manager and then my VP. They relayed it to the CIO, Ron, and he called me to his office. Petrified for my job I went to the top floor of Building D to visit Ron. I knew Ron but you never really know someone until you show up at the office to tell them that you basically ruined the entire website.
I explained what had happened and gave him the good news: we had a fix for the problem.
Then I proceeded to give him the bad news. We were going to process at six images – not twelves images – so it would take about 24 hours for the site to be back to normal.
This is where the defining moment came. He looked at me and said something along the lines of “Thank you for bringing this problem forward and not hiding it, do not worry about the mistake, it is how we learn from our mistakes that make us better”.
To this day, I keep in touch with Ron. He just recently retired, and I am forever grateful to learn that failing is not bad. It is a path to learning.
There are a lot of leaders that would fire someone for my egregious mistake, but firing someone for a mistake just means that the next person hides their mistake and no one learns.
This is why we have the following value: Fail fast and publicly.
Always try new things and iterate, no one is perfect, make mistakes, and share them. Mistakes we have learned from are mistakes worth sharing. Fail fast and publicly.