Mistakes are lessons of wisdom

– Guest blog by Bob Clyde

I just recently invested in one of those nifty “Hive” things – the remote control thermostat with the annoyingly memorable song. I even got a “Black Friday” deal on it. Brilliant. The chap came on time it was installed with minimal fuss and worked a treat. Or so I thought. After a couple of days I noticed that the temperature was always set at a Caribbean 21C. Empiricist that I am, I opened the front door until the house was absolutely Baltic. Hive said it was 21C.  Ok – I turned the heating on and set it to 22C.  The place warmed up and I thawed out but the thermostat still read 21C.  Ok – thought I – I’ll put it up to 25C. After an hour the house was now like a Baltic sauna and the Hive said it was still 21C.

I reluctantly therefore came to the conclusion that it wasn’t working. At least not by any definition of what a thermostat might have to do to be considered “working”. Now as many of you will know, these days the only people you can talk to on the phone at big companies are the ones who chase you for bill payment. For everything else there’s the Chat line. So chat I did – with Colin. He was very helpful (albeit in a 6cm window) and he said (I assume it was a he) that all I needed was a firmware upgrade and that he had instigated that and that he would email when it had gone through. Five hours later it was still 21C.  I chatted again. It was still Colin. I asked him if he was an Avatar. He replied he was Colin until 5 p.m. then he became someone else with a different name.

Now it got serious. We moved up to Tier 2 enquiry. Is there a red light glowing on the Hive? Hang on. I’m upstairs at the computer, it’s downstairs.  Puff puff pant pant – no there isn’t. When you turn it on does it say “Normal” at the top? Hang on. Back down the stairs; back up.  Yes it does. Ok can you take a battery out of it for a few seconds to reboot it?  Hang on. Back downstairs. I unclip it from its mount on the wall. Extract a battery; give it thirty seconds; replace the battery; clip the unit back on to the wall and get halfway upstairs.

I stop dead. What? Am I really doing this? It’s called a lot of things ranging from an entirely merited “stupidity” to a perhaps more euphemistical and helpful “frozen thinking”.  I knew the unit detached from the wall. The chap showed me how to take it off to change the batteries and yet I had just run up and downstairs three times to check on its status.

Whenever I do something like that I think, “How can I learn from this? Why did I do that?” The American politician Hugh Lawson White actually died in 1840 but could have said this yesterday:

“When you make a mistake, don’t look back at it long. Take the reason of the thing into your mind and then look forward. Mistakes are lessons of wisdom. The past cannot be changed. The future is yet in your power

So what did I do?  I think I tumbled into knee jerk mode. It’s a state where you just do the next thing or simply react unquestioningly to input. Jumping to conclusions, it’s sometimes called. So when Colin started asking me to do “things” I focused on the “thing” but not on the “thing itself”.  The “thing itself” was to get the thermostat fixed not run up and down the stairs. As the Feydeau-esque absurdity of me trotting up and down stairs was evolving, I was certainly aware of it. But did I say to Colin – “Can you just give me a list of things to do so that I only have to make one trip?” Eh, no – maybe if I had said that he would’ve said “Oh just unclip it from the wall and bring it upstairs”. But because I didn’t, he didn’t – and this is in the nature of this style of unthinking – it’s contagious.

In essence I wallowed in the absurdity. I was so keen to get my thermostat fixed that I didn’t want to run the risk of losing Colin by saying “Hang on a minute …” In this way I became purely re-active and not pro-active.  I bet we can all think of examples of this and when the contagion spreads across businesses, that’s a recipe for trouble.

The future however, is in your power.