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Success At Last- by James Richardson

© September 2000 James Richardson

This article first appeared in CINtoday- https://www.cin.earthweb.com
James Richardson is the division network coordinator at Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
21 March 2000

I've finally found a topic that I know better than anyone else. There is one area in which I have more experience and -- if I may be so bold as to say -- an innate talent equaled by few and exceeded by none: making mistakes. Pick a subject, any subject. I've either screwed it up or if it's something new, I will proceed to screw it up at the first opportunity. And that's one of my biggest assets.

So let's talk a little about making mistakes. Many folks try to avoid making mistakes. Far too many succeed. You've all seen the perfect shops, the ones where no one ever makes mistakes. You can usually recognize them from the stacks of green bar paper and the punch cards. "Keep the nine side down." Not too long ago I visited one local computer operation. On the wall, right behind the locked dutch door where supplicants queued to pick up printouts, was a sign that read, " I'm not responsible if the print out you're picking up isn't what you wanted. IT IS what YOU asked for." Right away I knew I was in trouble.

You can also spot the shops where there are lots of mistakes and where everyone is making them. Usually they are the shops that are out there pushing the limits of user services and technology. They are the shops where everything is possible except the things you don't try.

Be honest. The real reason you're in the position you're in today is that you've made more mistakes than anyone working for you. You've just been more choosy and selective about the mistakes you've made. To paraphrase Steve Martin from The Jerk, "Enough of these OLD mistakes, bring me some NEW ones." Over my many years of making mistakes I've developed a few rules and tips. I guess it won't be too big a mistake to share them. So here goes.

RULE 1: Never accept a BIG Project.

I've never seen a big project that gets done on time or within budget. Many never get done, period. Big projects seem to take on a life of their own. They grow and grow, and by the time all of the feasibility studies and planning gets done, conditions have changed so much that the final product, if there even is one, is no longer applicable to the situation that exists at that moment. SO! I never accept big projects. When someone comes to me with a big project I break it down into as many little projects as I can. Any part of the project that can stand on its own is treated as a separate project. That way I can quickly take care of one piece of the puzzle, the user gets something back quickly, I build a support base from the folks using each piece as it's completed, and we (the users and my staff) can modify each part of the project as needed and as conditions change.

RULE 2: Try to make mistakes that will be caught.

I always try to make mistakes that will become obvious quickly. The one thing that keeps me up at night is the thought that I've made a mistake that is so subtle that it will go unnoticed. Give me a big, bold error any day, but save me from those quiet little buggers that hide only to jump up and bite you when you least expect it.

RULE 3: Don't hide your mistakes, broadcast them.

Never hide a mistake. Tell as many people about it as you can. Who knows, maybe if you celebrate your mistakes, you will help someone else avoid making the same ones.

RULE 4: Try to make mistakes that won't affect the outcome.

That may sound tough, but it's not too hard. Look at whatever you're doing and try to decide which parts absolutely have to work for the whole thing to succeed. Then, concentrate on making those parts perfect. You can always come back and make it faster or fancier, but you have to make it work first.

RULE 5: Actively seek out mistakes.

Once you get things working, break them. I promise, if you don't, your users will. And don't limit yourself to only those things that make sense. Your users will do the dumbest things you can imagine. And then they will do something you thought was totally impossible. And after you've fixed all those things, get someone else to break it for you.

I hope this hasn't been too big a mistake. Remember, computer systems, particularly software programs, are independently intelligent. They, and the users, are out to get you. It's a lot like the man being chased by the bear through the woods. He ran and ran until he was totally exhausted. Finally he fell to his knees, raised his hands and began praying. "Oh Lord, it's all up to you now. I remember what you did for Daniel in the lions' den. Now, please help me. Please, let this be a Christian bear." Suddenly he realized he could no longer hear the bear chasing him. Slowly he turned, and there, on the other side of the clearing was the bear, on its knees praying,. "Wow," he thought. He got up and approached the bear until he was close enough to hear its prayer.

"Oh Lord, bless this food we are about to receive."

James Richardson may be contacted at: james_richardson@coastal.dnr.state.ga


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