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Immortalise Your Mistakes: The Importance Of Transparency In Generative Cultures

In a 2020 video conference, known as QCon, Jeff Foster Head of Product Engineering at Redgate, expressed the importance of recognising your mistakes. Part of what makes us human is our ability to fail, and respond to these failings. However, our pride as people often keeps us from wearing these mistakes as badges of honour. It is easy enough to declare that you’ve made mistakes in the past but if they are not tangible it is much easier to be put up on a form of pedestal.

Foster explained during is talk that at his company, Redgate, one he prides on having a generative culture, where “any failure should prompt inquiry. It shouldn't be pointing fingers. It should be trying to find out why we didn't meet the deadline, or why the production outage happened. It's this organization that's the most resilient. They're able to tackle problems, adjust, and learn.”

During the talk Foster recalled the story of how an intern accidentally replaced the entirety of the company’s catalogue with the code for installing the music app, Spotify. Although this sounds horrific, and mortifying, Foster assured his audience that rectifying this mistake, although rather embarrassing took a matter of minutes. It was what happened afterwards that was positive, and reflected the importance of having a generative company culture. “What Redgate did that I thought was really excellent is we immortalized that story in our employee handbook. This is from about 2012. This is one of the pages of our employee handbooks. We gave that to all new employees. It also served as a really useful recruitment tool, so I highly recommend that. Through this page, we reinforced the cultural meme that visible mistakes are ok, because whatever you do, you're not going to replace our entire product catalog with the Spotify installer. We even introduced what we call the golden brackets award to celebrate cock-ups like this.”

So, what did Redgate learn from this faux pas? They learned that by humouring the situation, it eased the fear the intern had about their job. Think about it? Surely everyone has had one of those “oh my god I am so fired” moments.

Some more than others; perhaps you let someone walk out if your job with a basket full if product without paying, because you don’t get paid enough to chase them down the street? Maybe in an attempt to banter with your customers, during the busy Christmas rush at the bowling alley, and can’t hear the names they’re giving you, so, you name them based on their attribute, so your customers enter the lane seeing their names are “bandanna man”, “turkey hat” and “flower crown”. If it didn’t land that would have been a complaint in at the very least.

By removing that immediate fear of being terminated for a silly mistake, by utilising humour, you make your employees comfortable, and, perhaps, in a few days, they’ll find it funny too.

For more on this topic, we encourage you to read our article: Humanising The Shadowman.

Based in London, U.K., and founded in 2016 by Arvind Mishra The Agile Works (, is an up-and-coming recruitment and Agile consulting company. Arvind is a Certified SAFe SPC and regularly delivers both private and public SAFe certification workshops.

He is a design thinking expert, Sr. enterprise, portfolio Agile Coach with over a decade of experience working as an Agile coach in diverse industries such as banking, pharma, retail, auto, oil, gas, consulting and government.

The Agile Works; a small team of three strive to help shape the leadership's mind-set and values in readiness for their business transformation journey challenges. With Arvind at the helm, we strive to provide you with the agility tools to make your company that can thrive, and not just survive.

To book a consultation, or for any enquiries, you can contact Arvind via the following email address:

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