Reversible Mistakes

I once had the privilege of promoting someone. Unfortunately, I promoted them from a role they were great at into one they weren’t ready for. To some extent, this is just getting promoted. After all, if it’s not a challenge, why call it “leveling up?” In this case, however, the gap between the two roles was too large, and so, just half a year later, I had to let them go.

In the online world, most mistakes can be reversed — often without a trace. Tweets can be deleted. Headlines can be changed. It’s just one of many benefits of being a creator: Making errors is inevitable, but the cost of erring is low. Your last blog post didn’t hit? Write another one. Your channel’s not growing? Just keep uploading.

In my case, however, fixing my mistake cost me two years, a lot of inner peace, and several thousand dollars. Firing someone is one thing, and that’s already not pretty. However, since the position I promoted them to was none other than CEO, I also tried to do right by them: I gave them a piece of my company.

If I have five apples and give you one of them, I can ask to have it back, but whether you’ll return it is another matter. What if you already ate it? What if you really like the apple? Maybe you hope to sell the apple to someone else in the future. Ownership is as important as it is emotionally complex.

It’s not like I didn’t think about the decision beforehand, but perhaps I should have thought more about it still. Thankfully, we remained on good terms and worked out a solution. Eventually, the misstep was fixed, the error completely reversed — but it was a far cry from the usual “let’s take a few hours to cancel this project, scrape the data, and start anew.”

Most people think about potential failures in advance. That’s valuable, but it’s not enough. We must also ask how much it will cost, in time, energy, and money, to reset the figurines on our Monopoly board. As long as 80, maybe 90% of your mistakes are easily reversible, you’ll have the luxury of continuing to play almost regardless of what happens. But if 30% or more will set you back six months, two of those in a row might kick you out of the game.

Think ahead, and then think ahead some more. Most blunders can be reversed, but if the price of doing so is too high, they might as well be fatal — and there’s little worse than losing a game you love before it has even begun.