When you know better, you do better?

What would happen if we admit that we're not perfect and that's OK?

One of my guilty pleasures is a Sunday morning walk, with Oprah Winfrey's podcast 'Super Soul Conversations'.

My favorite 'Super Soul Conversation' up until today is the podcast of July 24th earlier this year.

Oprah was talking about Maya Angelou and how both women looked differently towards how Oprah considered things she did in her twenties as 'mistakes', compared to how she handled things in her thirties.

The entire podcast evolves around the quote 'when you know better, you do better'. Although it’s a variation on Confusius’ “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall”, the focus in the podcast was a lot more the dwelling on the mistakes.  Basically they say it's of no use to hold grudges towards your past or to hold yourself hostage to who you were and what you did before, when you didn't know better.

It made me think (and I hope you can relate)

  • If you find a bug in code you previously wrote… how do you handle this?
    You fix that bug, you learn from it and you move on. What are the chances that you'll write that exact same bug in the next project?
  • If you do a code review and you give feedback to your coworker. What are the odds you'll forever hold that feedback against your colleague?
    Code reviews are for helping people grow and for improving the code base. Once you've given your feedback, your colleague will work with that feedback and improve his/her way of working. It's rare that a code review will be seen as a personal attack.

So, in the above context 'When you know better, you do better' makes perfect sense: we learn, we overcome, we improve and grow.
Or at least, that's what we tell ourselves and that's what we expect from the others around us.

But in reality...

In reality, it's much harder for me to move on.
Depending on the impact of what happened, I tend to look at what happened from different angles and see what I could have done to avoid making this mistake.

An example from a few weeks back:

I was under the impression I booked 2 tickets to go to a conference. The correct internal flow was followed, hotel rooms were booked. But with the date of the event approaching, we didn't receive any communication from the organization to start choosing preferred sessions.
When I double checked, I saw the tickets were never booked.

How I looked at this:

I made a mistake. Although something went wrong in our internal flow and the person who should have been alerted wasn't, in my mind, I was responsible for this mistake. The impact of my incompetence is huge since now one of my colleagues can't attend the event.

How that colleague looked at it:

Don’t worry about it Joke. Actually, I've already had a fair share of training, and things like this can happen.

So thinking back on “When you know better, you do better", I promised myself to not make this same mistake again  – and I probably won’t. But I still needed my colleague to put things in perspective and help me overcome this.

Why am I sharing this with you?

For me, thinking about that particular podcast and quote opened my eyes to the fact that I'm really not alone. In fact, most of us are dealing with "learning things the hard way". Most of us are just doing the best we can.

The colleagues next to you are giving all it takes to meet a deadline or to deliver the best working demo for as far as they can have an impact on it. 
No one expects you to be perfect as long as you're doing the best you can at this moment in time with the information, knowledge and expertise you have.

And since no one expects you to be perfect, why would you want to strive for perfection?

How can we make this work?

I don't have a one-size-fits-all solution, but for me it's about giving it a try. It's about trust so you can admit a mistake and talk about the effect it has on you, and expect you'll get understanding and help in return.

What would happen when you dare to speak up on what a mistake you made? How would your team respond to this?

How would your team react if you express that you have faith in them to find a solution on a topic that is out of your comfort zone? Do you dare to express that you aren't perfect, that you aren't all mighty and that you a lot to learn from others?

For me, 'when you know better, you do better' was a first step towards really working together as a team. I no longer have to be the brightest one, the one that speaks loudest and has a solution for whatever comes along. It's OK for me to lean on my team, to improve my own knowledge thanks to the strengths of my team.

Good in theory, but what's in it for you?

Unfortunately I can't give you documented and measured stress level decreases or efficiency gains. Nor will admitting you're not omniscient guarantee bug free projects hence forth.

For me, the real gain is peace of mind.
It's seeing that the world and the projects evolve, even if you're standing on the side line during a day off.
It's noticing a reduction in stress levels when a colleague steps in when you're absent or too busy with other things.

It's being able to genuinely express that you're having a bad day and feeling that you're not alone in this.

So, if there's one thing I wish you all for 2020, it's embracing that we're not perfect and experimenting with this new mantra 'when you know better, you do better'. 

Joke Van Hamme

Joke is on Twitter as