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Nov 02

Compounding Mistakes

Posted by: Steve Marr

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Once I was called to traffic court as a witness and found the proceedings interesting. A couple of cases highlighted the importance of not allowing one mistake to trigger a second and more serious error.

In one case a man was charged with failing to turn left from a left only lane.  Instead, he cut back into the right lane to go forward, cutting off the car in front. Unfortunately for the driver, there was a police cruiser behind the cut-off vehicle. The man told the judge that he found himself in a left only lane but realized he needed to go straight.  “What was I supposed to do?” the man asked.  The judge said that he should have turned left because he was in a left turn lane.  The judge pronounced the defendant guilty and issued a fine. The driver could have made the inconvenient left turn and still found his way to his destination with only minor inconvenience.  Because he didn’t, he ended up with a fine, a conviction on his driving record, and significant hours taken from his day.


In a different case, a young driver was cited for multiple offenses. First, he was driving with a suspended license so he shouldn’t have been driving at all. He also was driving over the speed limit, which caught the attention of a police officer who turned turn on his lights. This should have caused the driver to pull over.  Instead, the situation deteriorated into a high-speed chase and an arrest.  He was charged with driving without a license, excessive speeding, resisting arrest, and reckless endangerment.  All of this could have been avoided if the driver had simply not been driving. Even if he were stopped for speeding and driving on a suspended license, the charges would have been less grievous.

King Solomon wrote, “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13, NIV) In these situations, if the drivers had simply taken responsibility for actions, their penalties would have been less severe. 

The same is true in our lives and in our businesses. We tend to multiply mistakes. Whenever something doesn’t go according to our plan, we have an exit point or an opportunity to make a different decision. For example, if we allocate $50,000 for a new venture and use up the funds before we reach profitability, we need to be careful before investing more money. Frequently this is a mistake.

Years ago I was a volunteer Little League umpire for a time. During the orientation one of the key principles communicated was one that amateur umpires often make.  They may realize they made an error on a call and know they can’t change it. They need to be careful not to try to fix one mistake by making a second mistake. For example, if they call one runner out and upon reflection believe they were safe, don’t call the next runner safe when they were clearly out. One mistake does not offset an earlier one. 

Here’s the lesson for life and business.  When a situation doesn’t meet your expectations, determine if your original assessment was wrong and make adjustments as needed. However, don’t create a bigger problem by continuing to compensate in ways that take you down another error-prone path.

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