Politics be Damned! Fess up When You Mess up.

When I was quite young, between 3 and 5 I think, I made a mistake and lied about it. My father has always worked on and collected various instruments for commercial and amateur radio communications. One of these radios was on the floor by the couch one morning and I was playing with it. I remember at some point dropping a dime in it. I was scared and my father came over to ask what I was doing.

I remember asking, “What would happen if a dime fell in those slots?”

He asked, “Did you drop a dime in one of those slots?”

“No.” I answered and walked away. I entered the dining room some time later and saw him screwing the case back on the radio we had been discussing.

He turned to me and said, “You know if I had plugged this in it could have blown up in my face because of where that dime landed. It’s always better to admit a mistake so someone can help you fix it faster before anything really bad happens.”

I started my professional carrier at Tower Hill Insurance Group, Inc. in Gainesville, FL in 1997. In the early 1990’s the state of Florida had entered the insurance business because so many carrier had decided the hurricane risk was too great after the devastation left by Amelia. Five years or so big carriers were again willing to take risks in Florida and the new insurance commissioner wanted insurance carriers to buy the policies issued by the state in order to earn the privilege to again sell property casualty insurance products in the state that they abandoned. Tower Hill negotiated an agreement between a carrier and the state where Tower Hill would administrate the transfer, premium collection and claim processing for the policies this carrier purchased. My role in this arrangement was to import the policy information from a huge text file sent on CD once a month for the policies that were renewing for the next month. Those policies would renew with the new carrier.

I was… still pretty new at a lot of this stuff. I had only been out of college and at this job for a year. There was still an ample amount of self-directed on the job learning taking place. Well somehow, the details are a little foggy on wither I misunderstood the file specification or I got things switched around when I was creating the values, but I managed to get all the days and months for the effective and expiration dates switched. Yes I managed to create the European formatted dates. Worse yet… it was 3 months into the imports that I found the problem.

Give me some credit, I had a self-imposed sanity check, and found my own mistake before our policy management software vendor ever detected an issue, and just 5 days before we had a scheduled audit… Do I take vacation, abruptly quit, or just go get absurdly drunk?

Actually, I thought of my father’s advice. I took my problem to my manager who was gifted with a saintly proportion of patience and understanding. Mr. Chris Allen as I remember it laughed at me, shook his head, and said, “Common we need to go tell Keaton”. That’s Mr. Benson VP of IT.

“Wait, I have to go with you and explain what happened?” I said.


Other than thinking I was either getting fired or possibly shot, I only remember one other detail of that situation. As we were walking to the vendor reps office in our building Keaton stopped me and said, “Look George, if you’re not making any mistakes… you’re not working hard.”

That was the biggest motivator of all time. Yeah it was hard, and involved a lot of manual checking from the data entry team, and a torrid of sarcasm form the vendor rep who was threatened by the fact I could write robust GUI apps in 1/10th the time his company could put out a patch. But we got it fixed, and we had a great story of how our processes averted a disaster to give to the carrier’s auditor which earned us shiny gold stars on the audit report for honestly, ethics, compliance, and dedication to accuracy.