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Friday, December 15, 2017
Article written by Tayo Solagbade

How To Turn A Major Blunder At Work Into A Career Advancement Opportunity

Too Many People Are Afraid Of Failing Or Making Mistakes

They think it is better to play safe by not taking any risks. What they fail to realize is that they deprive themselves of the opportunity to “grow” by their unwillingness to venture beyond the realms of what they already know, or are comfortable with. They remain in their “comfort zones”, and by so doing miss out on valuable learning opportunities.

“I have made mistakes, but I have never made the mistake of claiming I never made one” – James Gordon Bennett (1841 – 1918) Journalist

There is a saying that “you have not failed until you give up trying to succeed”. When you try to achieve a goal and things fail to work out, you can try using this formula: W x R(to the power of 3) i.e. Withdraw, Reflect, Refocus and Return. Let’s take them one at a time:

Withdraw – Step away. Take a break – maybe a stroll to a quiet place where you can free your mind from the potential worries about the problem. Alternatively, relax your mind by reading a book or doing something else that has little to do with the problem that occurred.

Reflect – Analyse what happened and try to establish what went wrong to cause your failure. You will need to be honest with yourself here. (Maybe a close associate or confidant might come in useful to help inject some objectivity into the analysis. Note that I said "Maybe"). At the end of this process you should have identified (possibly written out) specific aspects of your failed plan most likely to have caused the problem.

Re-focus – Here you will take the findings from the Reflect stage and use them to decide on modifications that will be needed to make your plan work when next you try to achieve your goal. Again, here the benefit of input from other “trusted” persons(close associates who share your vision, and sincerely empathise with you) could be explored. Just make sure that those you invite (as Napoleon Hill warned) are people who DO NOT take defeat or failure seriously. You should end this stage with a clear idea of what you need to do differently or better when next you try out your plan.

Return – You take your modified plan back to the real world and try again to use it to achieve your cherished goal!

IMPORTANT NOTE: Now, in all likelihood, as has been my personal experience, this entire process can happen within a very short period(hours, minutes or seconds even) depending on what the problem is and how much experience you’ve had with it previously – or the nature of circumstances under which it has happened. As such, I expect that if at all you decide to, you will adapt the above elements to suit your needs in planning how you may deal with setbacks that come your way when they do occur.

I will now share with you an actual experience I had in which I applied an adaptation of the WR3 formula to turn a major blunder I made on my first night shift duty into a career advancement opportunity two(2) months later.

A True Career Story

As a Trainee Brewer in Guinness Benin Brewery, I went through a harrowing experience on my first night shift as Brewer On Duty. Before then I had been attached to senior, more experienced brewers who had put me through on how to supervise the workforce, and do the various calculations for managing the brewing process.

1. Some Background

During my training I had been particularly uncomfortable with the use by the older brewers of calculators in computing weighted averages for as many as nine(9) beer parameters for each bottling tank to be blended. It was not uncommon to see a duty brewer punching furiously at a calculator while the operator waited for him to finish and pronounce the quantities of beer and other additives to be used for filling the next bottling tank.

There were times when to correct some poor beer parameters, we had to blend mature beer from up to four different storage vessels into one bottling tank to produce beer with the right parameters for bottling. Can you just think about what it must have been like using a calculator to compute weighted averages for parameters of four (4) different volumes of beer to get one set of nine(9) parameters for a bottling tank? Pure drudgery I tell you!

What I found most difficult to accept was the fact that despite the presence on the brewers’ desk of a desktop PC with Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet on it, the brewers all kept using the calculator for this very complex task. To be fair to them however, very rarely did any of them make the kind of error I eventually did in their calculations. I guess that was because they had become very good at it over time.

For rookies like me however, the learning curve was simply too(needlessly I thought) steep, and the entire routine too prone to avoidable errors. I did not like that one bit, and felt I could never get used to working that way especially when a spreadsheet offering better value was in the PC on my desk! So, I made a mental note to explore using the spreadsheet to compute beer blending and make up volumes whenever I was on duty. But for that first night shift, since I was just starting, I settled for the calculator - a decision I would later seriously regret.

2. The Fateful Day/Event

Here’s what happened. That day, after reading the handover notes, I knew it was going to be a long night. My department(Brewing) had been struggling to keep up with the bottling lines which had been enjoying smooth operations since the start of the day. We had only one full tank of beer left, which was already being blended to two bottling lines at the same time. I checked the combined speeds of the lines, and estimated that it would take them another hour and a half to empty it. If I was to avoid a beer outage, I would have to ensure I got another full tank into the bottling hall before that time.

Unfortunately we did not have comfortable stocks of matured beer - with good parameters - ready for blending. This was mainly because the centrifuges had been acting up, failing to stop yeast from getting into the filtered beer. To cut the long story short, I managed to send two half tanks of beer to packaging. That should have bought us enough time to send another full tank in within 2 hours.

But alas, it was not to be! By the time the laboratory analysis came out, the beer color turned out excessively high for both half-tanks – way beyond what the company specifications permitted for bottling. I was devastated, but nothing could be done at this stage, other than to watch the two bottling lines run out the remaining beer from the last tank!

The beer outage lasted over four hours. It was painful – and embarrassing – to see the idle men and machines waiting all night for me to get a new stock of beer for them to continue the work they were paid to do! Just before my shift ended the next morning, I was able to send one full tank to packaging so bottling resumed as the morning duty brewer took over. By then however, the damage had been done. My inability to keep the lines going had meant the brewery’s chances of meeting the bottling volume target for the week had been severely jeopardized. I shuddered at the thought of what my boss would say. He had specifically told me to ensure we did not run out of beer. I felt very bad for having let him down.

3. Applying An Adaptation Of The Formula

Downcast but still puzzled as to what could have led to such gross miscalculation on my part, I went back to the brewers’ office and checked the paper I had used for my calculations again(this was the "Withdraw/Reflect" stage ). That was when I noticed the error I made in computing the amount of Guinness extract to be added to the beer. In my rush to supply the needed figures to the operator, I had inadvertently punched in a wrong volume of mature beer to be added resulting in the calculator returning a much larger volume of Stout flavouring extract than required.

As soon as I realized this, I could not help instantly thinking that if I had been looking at a computer screen with all the tank volumes and parameters typed in, and formulas returning the estimated volumes to be added, I would have had a better chance of discovering my error earlier!

There and then I made up my mind to develop a spreadsheet that would enable me accurately and reliably calculate needed make-up volumes for beer, and additives blending whenever I was on duty(this was the "Re-focus" stage).

Over the next two night shifts, I began building a Lotus spreadsheet(this was the "Return" stage) for my calculations, gradually modifying it to accommodate every possible scenario I could anticipate – including documented occurrences I had been told about by my senior colleagues.

4. Testing The Solution Developed

Eventually, after about a month, my spreadsheet had become a close companion that helped me safely plan for accurate beer blending for bottling whenever I was on duty. I never bothered to tell anyone about it because as I said earlier, my senior colleagues were mostly quite comfortable using the calculator. Also, a few had scoffed at the idea of totally converting all the calculator dependent computations for process management and report generation to PC spreadsheet format as I had proposed when I first joined them. So I thought it would be easier and better to simply use it for myself.

5. Solution Is Adopted By Entire Department(Success!)

As fate would have it however, my boss - Greg Udeh - one day walked into the office and saw me using the spreadsheet, which I had named “Beer Racking Projection Table”(“Racking” being a term describing beer make-up and transfer from the storage/maturation area into bottling tanks).

He asked me what I was doing with the spreadsheet. I demonstrated how it worked – including how close(to +/- 2 units) the computed final results it gave often were to those the laboratory returned by their analysis of the blended tank. I had actually been carefully collating the results from the lab and comparing them with the spreadsheet’s computed parameters for each bottling tank that was filled. The high degree of positive correlation between the computer and lab results was glaring.

That benefit, in addition to over 90% reduction in time taken to do weighted average calculations for beer blended to packaging, and increased flexibility in choice and number of storage vessels used for blending instantly appealed to Greg.

Suddenly, it became obvious that brewers could safely dispense with the exclusive use of calculators for this task, as all nine(9) parameters for blending of up to 4 mature beer tanks could be seen at once in a printable on-screen (projection results table) format. Necessary adjustments in volumes of beer, additives etc could also be easily made to achieve the desired final beer parameter specifications.

At the next departmental meeting, Greg announced the existence of the spreadsheet and asked me to put all other brewers through on how to use it. From then on, the entire department formally adopted the Racking Projection Table. As you can imagine, I got noticed for this and other similar solutions I would later develop for use by the department.


But if you recall how I began this story, it was a very unpleasant first attempt at doing my job the way it had always been done by those who taught me to do it, that led me to find a better way of doing it myself.

If I had simply given up and not challenged myself as I did, in order to better equip myself to do a better job next time(and so avoid making the same mistake again), it is unlikely that I would have developed the spreadsheet that eventually became useful to many others. The moral here is:

“It’s not what happens to you that’s important. It’s how you deal with it” - Can't recall who said this! :-)

People may say “I told you so” or laugh at you etc. Yes, you may have made a mistake. Maybe you were overconfident. The important thing is not that you have now fallen. No. What should matter to you is what you get out of the experience. Do you know more to be able to do better next time? If your answer is “Yes”, then you have absolutely nothing to worry about.

No matter how sensational your failure or mistake is, you can pick yourself back up, and try again and again, more intelligently each time, till you succeed.

Let them laugh if they want - it would not be the first time people who eventually achieve phenomenal success get laughed at before they succeed!

There is a part of the lyrics of England’s Manchester United Football club’s marching song(“Stand Up For The Champion”) that I love so much. It goes thus: “When I fall down, I have to pick myself back up(2ce)”.

It does not say “If I fall down”. It says “When”. Periodic setbacks are inevitable, but when a true champion falls, she picks herself up and tries again, and again UNTIL she succeeds. In or out of paid employment, the principles described in this article can be successfully applied to turn a bad situation around for the better. No special skill or talent is required. You only need to be willing to try.
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