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Imperfect choices – when “good enough” actually turns out to be not good enough

The article below was written by Fred Vahlkamp, co-founder of ManualMaster, in response to the Dutch REVISION 043. 



On a hot day in November I sit, quietly enjoying my morning coffee, at a quaint coffee shop in Workum. The shop is run by a man from Argentina who enthusiastically explains all about his coffee beans and roasting process. It is my three days off in one of the eleven Frisian cities during which I purposely do not open or read my work mail. And I had not, but on that day I of course quickly check whether I am not overlooking anything. And that is when I find the ManualMaster Newsletter in the list of unread emails. That would definitely be okay to read in my free time, it is relaxation. Wrong! When I read the headlines, I get taken aback. One of the headlines feel completely wrong to me. And although I get the witty remark behind it, I do not understand it. “Furious” is the state of mind that I share with my colleagues via WhatsApp. It is not an effective way to communicate and too late anyway. The newsletter had already arrived in hundreds of digital mailboxes. Next, I warn all colleagues to be on the lookout for any comments or criticism from the recipients of the newsletter. What is next? We have several choices:

  • Do nothing, it is no big deal
  • Follow up on the newsletter with an “Oops” message
  • Write a piece about the “benefits of mistakes” in the next newsletter

The last one gets proposed by our colleague Johan and feels like a good solution. You cannot make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, and it is the eggshells that are interesting now. A short discussion of why I worry about two things in the newsletter, a headline, and a picture, follows. The headline is unintentionally arrogant, the photo is inappropriate. While analyzing how they both got into the newsletter, it turns out that the succession of people who review our content before it gets posted or send out are all the opinion that we should not have placed the photo. This includes the person who is present in the picture as well. Now it gets interesting, because how could it be this picture was included anyways? Despite the processes within the organization, a concept we know all too well of course, something goes wrong. And then you start the conversation together. You unravel a string of coincidences – Deadline, needing a new photo now but person is unavailable, don’t want to exclude anyone, other available choice didn’t have the right format, deadline -. And so now, you have a newsletter that none of us would have wanted to send out in this way. The overarching conclusion is “when in doubt: step back and consider whether good enough, actually is good enough.”

The opinions about the headline are divided. Some see mainly the witticism, others the arrogance. It would have helped if we had incorporated something about the organisation’s business activities in the headline. If you read the article in its entirety, you will understand the wit, so it only goes wrong when skimming through the headlines. Better next time, and above all clearer: no witticism without context and no room for arrogance because that is absolutely not who we want to be.

In conclusion; if you were bothered by something in our previous newsletter, you did not read it correctly ;-). We are alert again now as a team. The lesson we learned is that when you feel a “no” during the final editorial checks, then that must remain a “no” despite the pressure of meeting a deadline. The advantage of making a mistake is that you can excel in dealing with it. This prevents future mistakes and in this case rekindles the awareness surrounding our organisation’s norms and values.

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