“To err is human; to forgive, divine”, Alexander Pope famously wrote in his “Essay on Criticism”. 

Martin Holden of the UK Health and Safety Executive wrote in his 2005 article, “UK’s New Work at Height Regulations” about how one of the defining traits of a competent person is to be aware of the limits of their competence – and to be able to identify situations in which they need to call in technical support.

I will always go into challenging situations very aware of the fact that I make mistakes.

A howler happened a couple of months back, whilst teaching work safety during this year’s Swiss certified arborist course. For years one of the things I have harped on about is the differentiation between danger, engdangerment, risk and mitigating actions. People really struggle when asked to define these terms during the exam, for instance with the concept of mathematically expressing the probability of an incident occurring.

So this year I decided to do really thorough job when explaining that topic, I made up a new infographic which illustrates the definitions in great detail. When I presented this to the folk at the course, there ensued a polite silence… it transpired I had mixed up the high and low probabilities and their mathematical expression in the presentation. Whoopsie, talk about an egg on face moment… 😛

Well, there you go, QED: Mistake? Made!

I will be the first to confess to getting things wrong. It is one of the reasons I will really question myself when making public statements regarding complex topics, such as during the annual gear inspection technician briefing prior to the International Tree Climbing Competition…

I will go into sessions like this knowing that I may well get some things wrong – the trick being in my opinion to be sure about what you know – and not be shy to admit to not knowing things, this is a reasonable and honest position to take for which you cannot be faulted, after all. Sometimes it can also happen that a situation develops a dynamic in which you get sucked into making a statement, which on second thoughts you have doubts about. In this instance also, I believe it is perfectly in order to revisit that call – or to request more time to give a matter due consideration. This is especially relevant when you are trying to make fair, consistent decisions which you can back up with facts rather than opinion.

I am always a bit nonplussed by people who come across as being very forceful and assertive when stating their beliefs and positions. It makes me wonder, do they have no doubts regarding getting things wrong? Just totally sure they have got it all right? Probably in the end it is a question of personality, delivery and style – I write this free of judgement, simply as fact.

Be that as it may, I for one strive as much as possible to mitigate my mistakes, to be open and honest about them when they do occur – and to not repeatedly step into the same trap, making the same mistake over and over again.

Therefore, let me propose a toast: onward, to new mistakes! 🥂