In 2008 I was starting to feel like I was more than capable in my marketing job. Roughly two years in, I was confident in my abilities – feeling almost invisible. Then came an incident which would go on to be known as the margin of error incident.

Often times in the pursuit of high dollar work – a strict guideline is put in place to weed out those not paying close enough attention to the job duties. On one particular project we were chasing – the client was extremely detailed in how they wanted the submission to be put together A very specific number of pages, in this specific font and size with margins exactly one inch on all sides.

I prepared the proposal document, combed it over to ensure compliance and turned it in. A week later I received a letter from the client. Our proposal was rejected for failure to follow the guidelines.

The final page of the proposal was a resume in the appendix from a contractor we brought on as part of our team. The margins of their resume were measured at .9″ – just .1″ that prevented us from getting a sizable contract of work.

My boss at the time gifted me a plastic trophy shaped like the back side of a donkey. The plaque was inscribed with “You’re an ASSet to this firm.”

Having the opportunity to hire various people on different projects I can be assured that sometimes things will not go as planned. The graphic designer may not return the best designs. The modeling talent may have an off day. The makeup artist may not deliver on set. The production manager may have messed up the booking. It is almost a certainty that human error will impact you and your business.

However, these situations become compounded with difficulty when the responsible party tries to skirt the responsibility. Thus you hear phrases like:

“Someone else messed up and as a result I was unable to perform my duties”

“I’m just doing what I was told to do”

“No one else seemed to be putting forth any effort”

Or the worst yet,

“Well I tried my best!”

Each of these excuses attempt to dismiss or pass on blame. The result is a problem that persists, grows and is not resolved moving forward. The alternative, when responsibility is accepted is an accelerated progression to a solution.

I messed this up, it won’t happen again. I designed this wrong, it will be fixed. I did not deliver today, it will be made up for. When it is rephrased this way, it becomes much easier to move on from.

It has been owned and settled. No argument, no back and forth and no resulting resentment.

Going back to my marketing job. I had the opportunity to deny responsibility. Well, it was the contractor;s fault! It was their resume that got our proposal tossed out. But who was running the project? Who was responsible for the proposal? And although I did snarl at the contractor – I knew I was still the responsible one. I had to own the failure. It was mine.

That trophy my boss gave me so kindly awarded me… that stayed on my desk for years as a reminder, It was the last time I ever had a proposal rejected.

Eventually, as you can guess, someone else at the company messed up a project. The next morning the trophy displayed prominently on their desk.

James Patrick
instagram @jpatrickphoto