Sat, Mar 09, 2019

Own Your Stuff

We all make mistakes. Of course, we do. And the more we do, the more mistakes we will make. It just comes with the territory.

I believe this is just fine as long as you own your stuff and make it right once you realize your mistake.

Let me tell you a story: Until about two years ago I used an example to illustrate (in a somewhat funny way) the rapidly declining cost of genetic sequencing. Alas, in my story, I made two huge mistakes: I kept repeating a headline I read somewhere that the price of sequencing a human genome has come down to $100 – until someone pointed out to me that the full headline reads: “Cost of sequencing a human genome on it’s way to $100.” The real price was, at the time, somewhere in the $400 range (and according to WIRED it is now down to $200). I further made the statement that one of my colleagues believes that the cost of genome sequencing will become so cheap that it will be close to free. And to illustrate this, he points out that it will be cheaper to sequence your genome than flushing the toilet. And thus we can conceivably just sequence your genome every time you flush the toilet. For the longest time, I could have sworn that I looked this up and read somewhere that a company is working on something like this. After months of making the point on stage – which the audience loved as it just sounds crazy enough to be skirting on the line of it being possible, I finally fact-checked my statement. And lo and behold – I couldn’t find any source to back up my point.

Since then I have started to systematically catalog all the public statements I made of the years which were wrong or portrayed in an exaggerated fashion and work on a long(er) blog post to correct them. In the case above I changed my slides and narrative and reached out to people I knew were particularly taken by the points being made.

I, for sure, will keep making mistakes as will you (likely). We all ought to do our utmost best to avoid them in the first place – but maybe more importantly: When we make mistakes, we need to own up to them and make it right.

It’s not complicated. It is just hard.

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