Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote,”every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.” It’s one of my favorite quotes. This post is the fifth in a series that highlight some of the awesome people I’ve had the privilege to learn from.
My Mom taught me that “laying blame” doesn’t fix a problem.
Whenever something went wrong or we were faced with a problem, my Mom’s favorite saying was “we’re not here to lay blame, we’re here to find a solution.” I’m not sure if that came from her parents or from her training as a lawyer who worked in the charged atmosphere of police and citizen disagreement hearings, but it was drummed into me as I was growing up. Instead of arguing over who had done what, we tried to come up with a solution. Many times it didn’t work. But just having that process in place meant that we all agreed we wanted a solution rather than to just arguing to be right. It’s a very important idea that’s served me really well. I think things through much more analytically because it doesn’t make sense to get angry about something that’s already happened. It is the past. Now its time to solve the problem and move forward.
When I was 20, we decided to redevelop our tickets and textbooks website over the summer before school started. We needed to be live by August 20th at the very latest because we made 40% of our revenue and had 80% of new sign ups from new freshmen in that first month when students first came on campus. Our developer promised us that it would be done by August 1st, but we kept running over. On the 20th, it wasn’t ready. On the 28th, we launched the new site. It had massive bugs. I got slammed by users who wanted to sell their tickets and buy textbooks. I was furious. It was clearly his fault, or so I thought. I took a step back, and put up the old site for another week while he finished the job. We hit our revenue and sign up targets. Looking back it was my fault for asking for too much and not staying more on top of the project. We stayed friends, worked together for the next four years and still stay in contact today. By using my Mom’s strategy, we got the solution we needed and moved forward.
When I was running Entrustet, we ran into a whole host of problems. One time I remember one of our employees screwed up a mass email to our list of attorneys. She accidentally hit send instead of send test. There were errors that made us look bad. Instead of screaming and yelling, we talked it over and worked with her to create a procedure to make sure it never happened again. The same thing happened when a competitor ripped off one of our blog posts, used our research and didn’t credit us. We were angry, but after calming down, we talked with them calmly, sorted out the situation and ended up partnering with them a few months later. By not laying blame, we gained a partner.
My Mom taught me that when I screw up with my friends or business, it doesn’t make sense to blame others. Take responsibility, apologize and go from there. Obviously I don’t get it right all the time, but that’s the goal. Her saying taught me that there’s no point in beating yourself up for past mistakes, the only thing that matters is dealing with the situation and moving forward. The past is in the past. It’s called that for a reason. It’s served me really well running my businesses, but also trying to live a good life.
But her saying doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t fire someone who screws up, break up with someone who has wronged you, or rebuke your friends or family for something they’ve done. That can come with solving the problem. But you solve nothing by affixing blame first. Her saying taught me that it makes more sense to go back later and do an inventory of what went wrong and take appropriate action as part of solving the problem.
My Mom taught me the concept of “we’re not here to lay blame.” It’s become one of the most important parts of my life and one of the concepts that have allowed me to be successful.