Elephant in the Room Award

Long ago I learned the value of swallowing my pride and openly admitting my mistakes. By making a practice out of it, I am able to continually sharpen my self-awareness, and I learn a lot more in the process. I still make my share of blunders though, and I go out of my way to acknowledge it.

The idea is to not only pay respect to those you might not have listened to carefully enough, but also to create a lasting memory that helps hone your problem-solving skills.

Most people tend to skip over their slip-ups as quickly as possible, but there is so much more value to be gleaned from transparency. In one instance I went so far as to buy a colleague a symbolic coffee cup to mark the occasion of my foolishness.

After an unnecessary all-nighter that was caused by me, I was in dire need of a booster from Starbucks. The afternoon before, I had taken a colleague’s input about a confounding issue, but I was too close to my own coding to see the obvious.

There are all kinds of ways to rationalize why I was missing what was right in front of me — but none of them trump my failure to fully consider what made the most sense.

I eventually discovered that even though the process had been working for months, I had left out a tiny but critical component that caused a problem once we were in production. I saw the situation through the prism of belief instead of sound consideration. The former distorted my thinking and blurred what should have been clear, while the latter would have been like a lighthouse to navigate my way home. I hope to never again be so foggy in my judgment, but more than likely it will happen.

As a preventative measure, I decided to embrace my imprudence and pay homage to my colleague for having the right idea in the first place. Little did I know that Starbucks would have the most perfect memento I could imagine. On the wall were mugs “inspired by our Kenya coffee,” and the one with the elephant immediately caught my eye.

What began as a nice gesture evolved into the “Elephant in the Room Award”—presented that morning in an off-the-cuff speech to inject some humor into the story.