“You had to make mistakes, it was so liberating!” That was my experience of working at the computer shop that supplied the education market in London with small computer printers, in 1986. The Sikh wife of one of two Sikh directors had invited me to “come to my shop, learn how to run it, and run it for me while I have my baby”.
I was studying in my part-time PhD in cybernetics at the time. I had also been made redundant from my senior lecturing job, because I was ‘too expensive’.
On my first day, this very able business woman said that they had sacked the systems manager, so would I run the shop’s mainframe computer, in the absence of the two directors, when they went to India in two-day’s time. They were too busy to show me how, until the morning they were leaving. I said, “This is very dangerous.”
The computer was ‘down’ most of their time away. The reset button was under a set of toggles that moved whenever one was trying to get the computer going. Once we realised this, we fixed a washer shaped pad around the reset button, but that was only the most obvious issue.
The shop stocked, and had already sold, several brands and many printer versions, so the variety of ribbons, inks and toner cartridges was large. Only the other director’s wife ‘knew’ which were the correct ones, or did she? Even she frequently made mistakes. That was just another, of a huge number, of ‘trip points’ to solve.
Making mistakes may be necessary as many inventors have found. So, let us all help ourselves and each other, especially in our workplaces, to be honest and open when we do fail. Let us encourage our young and would-be pioneers to know that to pioneer is to make mistakes along the way and let our official media learn to help rather than hinder when people of good-will fail along the way.
I felt liberated when the task that they assigned me was clearly impossible to fulfill without trial and error. I could then do the best that I could.
Making mistakes and learning from them applies to any context. Look out for my next blog on mistakes in healthcare coming soon.
Genevieve M Hibbs former: nurse (general and occupational health), midwife, Christian missionary, lecturer, elected councillor, mayor and a member of the Lucidity Network.
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