I’m not talking about the pass interference no-call that effectively robbed the Saints of a win in their NFC Championship game against the Rams. Even the league office agreed that the defender hit the receiver well before the ball arrived, but none of the seven officials on the field—including two within spitting distance of the play—called pass interference. (The hit was also helmet-to-helmet, also illegal, also a no-call.)
No, I’m talking about a typo in the first sentence of my column last month. I just got my hard copy today and there it was, plain as day. A month too late, but I finally saw it. It’s ironic, too, because I’d planned to write about mistakes this month. The subconscious at work?
A typo is a mistake compounded. In addition to making the typo in the first place, I also failed to see it in all of the page proofs I looked at. Plus, at least two other editors also reviewed those proofs before the page went to press, with the express purpose of finding this kind of mistake. But even with that NASA-like redundancy, we all missed it. Maybe you did, too, and all my mentioning it now has done is draw attention to it. But fessing up to our mistakes is as important as taking steps to avoid them and resolve them.
I doubt my typo caused anyone much more than an awkward stumble while reading it. I’ve certainly made mistakes with more dire consequences—some that cost me money, a few that cost other people money, and many (both personally and professionally) that affected someone else’s happiness or effectiveness or expectations. I think we all consider mistakes to be an inevitable part of life and work, but seeing this typo reminded me that how we deal with mistakes—ours and others—is often more important than the mistake itself.
Cut and Paste
I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about mistakes remodelers make that lead to lost profit and unhappy customers. One that comes up often is when the remodeler and the homeowner disagree on what was supposed to get built. This is often a big, costly mistake, but it can start with something as humble as a typo. Take discrepancies between the specs and the drawings, for example. You’d be surprised how often this problem arises. It’s largely because, while project drawings are almost always unique, specs are often boilerplate. It’s easy to overlook an incorrect spec embedded in a long document that was copied over from a previous job.
To resolve this kind of discrepancy, most construction documents contain language that says when specs and drawings disagree, the specs prevail. Simple enough, but I would argue that it’s less a solution than an invitation to a bigger problem. It’s actually more likely that the drawings are correct in the sense that they conform with the owner’s expectation. Is the best solution to disregard the drawings and follow the specs instead? To my mind, a discrepancy between the specs and drawings is a big red flag that ought to bring the parties together to figure out which is correct.
But then you also need to follow up by abandoning the practice of cutting and pasting from previous projects, and instead use a template with blanks in the boilerplate where you can add the particulars of a given job. And when you come up with new language for a certain project that you’d like to include for all projects, don’t cut and paste from that job’s documents—that just compounds the problem. Update the template instead.
More insidious than boilerplate is autocorrect. A lot of communication with clients and between office and jobsite occurs via text message. I don’t know about you, but I’ve reread many a text message of mine that was complete gibberish. But gibberish at least has the advantage of alerting the recipient that something isn’t quite right. More dangerous are messages that look perfectly normal but contain a change you don’t see before sending.
I think I’ll leave things there and take a minute to reread this to make sure I haven’t accidentally made another tyop ... er typo.