Don’t Be Afraid To Be Wrong


In the early 1980’s, with the economy heading south, my department manager convinced me that we should bid the heating, air conditioning and ventilation work on three large school additions. I was nervous about the projects because the specifications called for chilled water air conditioning, systems we had little experience installing. However, Scott convinced me that he knew what he was doing and if we got the jobs, we could perform the work. Well, we won the bid on all three schools, installed the systems and could not make them work.

It was apparent that the troubles were due to the chilled water not flowing through the system at a high enough volume. At first we thought the problem was that there was air entrapped in the systems, so we ran the pumps continuously to remove the air through water hoses connected to the piping. Sure enough, with the nozzle of the hose in a bucket of water, you could see huge bubbles of air belching from the system; but still they wouldn’t work.

The architects decided the difficulties were occasioned by our installing piping that contained dirt, which was clogging the system. When they reported their supposition, the school authorities threatened the contractors, who contacted the company that wrote our performance bond. The situation was getting worse and worse. Not understanding the intricacies of chilled water-cooling, I was afraid that we had done something wrong. Day after day, I would spend hours at each job site, running the pumps, hoping that the systems would purge themselves. I attended school board meetings where I defended our installation and avoided answering questions from the local newspaper reporter. We were spending thousands of dollars trying to make the system work, we were not getting paid for the work we had performed and our reputation was being ruined.

I was at my wit’s end when I made the decision to hire a consulting engineer to review the plans, specifications and our installation. I forwarded the documentation to the engineer and made plans for him to tour the jobs. A couple of days after he received the information he called and told me that he would not have to inspect our work, that he had reviewed the plans and found that the design engineer had specified pumps too small to maintain the needed water flow. I forwarded his written report to our contractor customers, who took it to the school board and the problem was solved. In fact, we were paid extra to change out the pumps. I had made a serious error by undertaking a job that I did not understand and I compounded that error by being afraid to be wrong.

An employee of one of our retail dealer members told me about a problem he had with an insurance claim. He was concerned that he had made a mistake when he had completed the insurance policy application and was afraid that he would lose his job. He worried, fretted, could not sleep and finally decided to review the paperwork, so that he could face up to his error. He told me that I could hardly imagine his relief when he discovered that the insurance carrier, not he, had made the mistake.

Don’t be afraid to be wrong. The fear of confirming that you have made a mistake can lead to not trying to uncover the root of the problem or seeking assistance. To assume that you know the cause of a problem when you don’t can often lead to the problem becoming worse. Remember, a decision based upon incorrect facts is almost bound to be an incorrect decision. Before coming to a conclusion, you should be sure to question everyone involved, obtain outside opinions and follow the paper trail.

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