Poor Dead Bill

Have you ever made a mistake at work that really embarrassed you and made you look like an idiot?

Sure you did. Me too.

I share this story to prove that you can learn from your mistakes and become a better person as a result. That is, if you don’t get fired first!

Here’s what happened (the names have been changed to protect the innocent).

I was the production manager for an association magazine many years ago. I had a team of designers and writers and we were doing 8 magazines and other stuff simultaneously. The association magazine was pretty small and didn’t have a lot of design going on so I delegated most of it to my assistant.

Back in the day before digital photography and InDesign, we had to paste-up stuff on cardboard boards and leave spaces for photos—that were scanned in some mysterious warehouse in Tennessee. We’d get our “boards” produced and write in the photo box the name of the photo that the printer would “strip-in.”

Poor Dead Bill Goes Here

Poor Dead Bill

Poor Dead Bill

Well, this magazine had an “In Memoriam” section. We were awaiting a photo to come of the deceased featured. Yes, his name was Bill. We were at deadline and we had to send the proofs to the association in an undisclosed midwestern city. As an inside joke I had written “Poor dead Bill to go here,” in the photo box. I had planned on erasing that before the proofs went out.

Well, you can probably guess what happened. My assistant was so proud of the fact that she got it done in time and was being proactive, she sent the proofs away!

Uh-oh. I looked at the photocopied set we kept and saw the message. I asked if FedEx had come yet. Oh, yes, the proofs should be on the way! Yippee.

The publisher got a call the next day and I was called in. I was instructed to phone the association executive, who said: “Bill was a close friend of mine and I do not appreciate this attempt at humor.” Click.

I Thought I Was Dead

I thought I was dead. By some miracle he forgave me. I felt like a total moron and I was.

The moral of this story:

Much like things sticking in social media, what you say and write, no matter how innocuous can have unintended consequences. And, what you think is funny can be insulting, rude, and nasty to others. Especially in a work environment, you have to maintain proper decorum and dignity.

The lesson I learned here is to proof everything, check everything, and also think about what you design and write to see if it can be misconstrued in some way. Be polite, be respectful, be careful.

Although I was embarrassed and close to tears over this, I did learn that lesson and passed it on to my staff and others. If you can learn something from a mistake then you at least gain something.

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