What is a Screw Up?

Jeff Bezos Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

It is important to learn the differences between screwing it up, good failures and operational excellence. If we continue to screw it up at work and not achieve operational excellence the growth possibilities for a company are limited or none. 

What is a Screw Up? As a company, If we end up making the same mistake again – It is a screw up. 

Classic Examples of Screwing it Up: ‘Screwing it Up’ applies to all industries. In the technology industry, here are some classic examples. 

  1. Website went down – Hey we received more traffic and the site crashed.
  2. You put the test data in the live server.
  3. Orders being processed when you are testing and the customer ships the order.
  4. We just went live with a website and it crashed.
  5. I did not back up and lost my work – The site is in a mess now.
  6. A new person joined my team – He did not know what he was doing and the site crashed (or) something else screwed up.
  7. I am working on a corporate presentation or a training deck and do not add the company logo.

Here are some examples in the technology services industry.

  1. In the technology services industry: – I don’t have the Business Requirements Document (BRD) signed off.
  2. The client asked me to change something and I just did without a change request order. They asked for something more and I continued to do it and the project is still not signed off 🙂 and
  3. You send an email to 100 people and put all of the 100 in cc instead of putting them in bcc. 
  4. And you know what I mean 🙂

These are not good failures. This is called screwing it up. We just screwed it up. 

Operational Excellence: When Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon was asked about ‘How do you encourage employees to be innovative’ at the Air Force Association’s September 2018 Air, Space and Cyber Conference – this is what he said (Watch two minutes from 90 seconds). 

Retired Gen. Larry Spencer: How do you encourage employees to be innovative? We’ve talked a lot here about the “frozen middle,” how folks will have ideas and they can’t get them through. A lot of folks worry about the risk: “What’s going to happen if I make a mistake?” How do you encourage your employees to be innovative?

Bezos: This is fantastic and important question. To be innovative you have to experiment. If you want to have more invention, you need to do more experiments per week, per month, per year, per decade. It’s that simple. You cannot invent without experimenting. And here’s the other thing about experiments: Lots of them fail. If you know it’s going to work in advance, it is not an experiment.

What happens in big organizations — and Amazon’s a big organization now, the Air Force is a big organization — is that we start to confuse experimentation with operational excellence. Operational excellence is one of our four key principles at Amazon. We’ve built over 150 large fulfillment centers around the world now. We know how to do that. That is not an experiment. If we build the 151st fulfillment center and screw it up, that’s just a failure.

That’s not the kind of failure we’re seeking. We want failures where we’re trying to do something new, untested, never proven. That’s a real experiment. And they come at all scale sizes. So you need to teach people that those two kinds of failure are different.

It is important to strive towards operational excellence and good failures. Thank you for reading. 

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