When most of us make a big mistake, the last thing on our minds is "Oh, I should blog about this and make my embarrassment public." No, I think the normal human reaction is to move far, far away from our screw-ups.
Some of us, the more reflective types, may have private discussions with our most trusted confidantes about what happened. Or we may write in our journals and then hide those journals in a drawer somewhere. But few of us would have the courage to write about what we've done on our blogs, and even fewer would be willing to do it if the mistake involved someone famous. But Nancy White is no ordinary person. Dave Pollard explains:
I was really surprised, then, when one of those people, Nancy White, confided that she was really distressed because she'd unintentionally hurt someone -- a participant at her presentation at Northern Voice. I would normally not blog about such a personal and painful occurrence, but since it's all been put in the public record by the participants, I figure it's OK to talk further about it. It's actually causing me as much distress as it's causing Nancy.
Here's what happened:
- Nancy encouraged everyone at her session to "be fearless" and draw on craft paper and post on the walls of the meeting room something about a subject (the subject happened to be Ice Cream) that meant something to them, and to post on their blog their drawing, instead of just writing about it. The purpose of the exercise was to understand how visualizations add meaning and value to information, and to open ourselves to the additional personal understanding that comes from expressing oneself in pictures instead of just words.
- One of the participants, the actress Meg Tilly, found the exercise personally devastating, and wrote about it on her blog. Here is a photo of her drawing, just to give you a bit of context.
- Nancy was really distraught to have caused Meg such pain, and she wrote an apology on her blog.
What happened here is instructive on a lot of levels. First is the obvious fact that Nancy was brave enough to post on her blog what some people would consider a big professional mistake that endangers her reputation. Rather than making her look less professional, though, she comes across as even more on top of her game. Here's someone who's well-known in her field who's willing to share what she learned from a bad experience and to apologize for any pain she caused. This in itself is wonderful.
On the other side of that equation, though, is Meg Tilly--someone even more well-known than Nancy who was willing to publicly share how difficult it was for her to do the exercise in the first place. This gave Nancy the opportunity to learn that she had made a mistake and to respond in a public forum about it.
Think about how this might have played out without blogging. Meg may or may not have informed Nancy of the situation, which means that Nancy might not have known that she caused pain in the first place. And certainly there would have been no opportunity for the rest of us to learn from this experience because it would have all happened behind "closed doors."
There are a lot of people who worry about the level of transparency and self-revelation that blogging seems to open up. It's seen sometimes as "self-indulgent" or dangerous to your professional reputation. But what I really see is that it allows us to be more reflective practitioners. In fact, I'd argue that the very structure of blogging with the ability to link to others and to comment on blog posts, creates a culture of reflective practice. It provides a forum for us to "think out loud" and to receive feedback and coaching from others, the very essence of being a reflective practitioner.
For me, what happened with Nancy and Meg is a model for what all of us should do. It's this kind of experience that really helps us grow as professionals, no matter what our occupation or field of interest. It's what I'm going to aspire to.
UPDATE--Please be sure to read Nancy White's response in the comments section. In it she provides additional context and models how new insights develop from blogging and the process of reflecting on our practices as professionals.