We All Make Mistakes (Some Are Just More Public Than Others)
The best responses to the HBO Max “integration test” email
On June 17th, 2021, millions of people received an unexpected email.
The email was from HBO Max (you’ve probably heard of it). But, rather than the glossy emails subscribers are accustomed to seeing — featuring celebrities and hit TV shows and new releases — this email was, well, different.
It looked like this:
As you can probably guess, HBO Max didn’t intend to send this email out to every single one of its users. A quick glance at the email tells you everything you need to know about it. The email was sent by mistake.
It didn't take long for the collective Internet to catch on. Within minutes, hundreds of posts cropped up talking about the email. Some made jokes, poking fun at the media giant. While others wondered how a mistake this widespread could happen.
What had gone wrong?
After about an hour, the HBO Max team recognized the error and took to Twitter to address it. They apologized to their subscriber base and explained that the email had, in fact, been sent out by an intern.
In a word . . . oops.
If you’ve been in your career longer than a few days, this revelation that an HBO Max intern had made such a visible error likely triggered memories and feelings. Maybe even some mild PTSD.
And the reason is simple. It’s impossible to do work without making mistakes. We all make them. They’re terrible and upsetting and a natural part of work life. Some mistakes are quiet and easy to cover up. Others happen within the view of thousands (or even millions) of people.
Either way, dealing with a mistake can be dreadful.
One meeting stands out vividly in my mind.
I was new to a team, and our first few meetings hadn’t gone well. We were a project team thrown together from different parts of the company. And there were a lot of politics taking place at higher levels of the organization that injected tension into our dynamic. We weren’t getting along.
So, to lighten the mood I tried something. I was putting together the first draft of a PowerPoint deck. And where we would need to create and drop in a pie chart, I put in a picture of an actual pie. Apple pie, if I remember correctly.
I thought it was funny. “Pie” chart . . . get it?
Well, nobody in the meeting got it. One of my partners called out the picture specifically, saying that it wouldn’t go over well with senior leaders. And then my boss jumped in, telling me that we would need to reconsider the picture.
I sheepishly told everyone that it was my attempt at a joke. Then deleted the picture and changed the subject. Complete failure.
I was ultimately able to smooth over the team dynamics using more serious tactics. And we turned that team into a winning one. But I’ll never forget that feeling of failure. That I’d made an embarrassing mistake.
How we respond to mistakes
When I saw the HBO Max tweet calling out the intern, my heart sank. I could remember my failing. How it felt in the moment. And that was only in front of a half-dozen people. What must this intern be feeling?
And, to be honest, I didn’t think the Internet would help the intern at all. I expected the general response to the HBO Max email to be one of mocking and derision (as so much of the Internet is).
But instead, there was an outpouring of support. People from all walks of life saw themselves in the HBO intern. Felt their own mistakes reflected. And sent notes of encouragement and support.
It was moving.
So, rather than continue sharing my thoughts, I want to dedicate the rest of this article to the best responses from the Internet. The next time you make a mistake at work (which will happen), I hope you’ll lean on posts like these as a source of encouragement.
The lesson here is simple.
👉 We all make mistakes
👉 When others make mistakes: lend support and kindness
👉 When you make a mistake: learn and move on
Much love + Promise that it’ll be OK!
Congratulations on helping your team . . .
My team was awesome about it and I’m still here.
You’ll be fine.
Wisdom is what you learn from losses.
We’ve all broken production!
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