Lives of High Stakes and Mistakes

If failure is not an option, then why does it happen so often?

The body of literature on making mistakes is vast and reassuring to this writer-editor who’s made his share and then some. All kinds of uber successful people have been quoted as saying that failure is always part of the walk toward achievement. “A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing,” George Bernard Shaw supposedly said. (This comes from the Internet so surely it’s spot-on accurate).

Electric lightbulb icon Thomas Edison, who had a lot to do with our modern power industry, apparently found 10,000 wrong ways to illuminate us but considered it all victory on the road to invention.

I not only have first-hand knowledge of failure, but I have walked with it, danced with it and whispered sweet nothings into its ears in the wee hours. In three decades of journalism, I have broken huge stories, alerted readers to grievous wrongs and won a few awards along the way. If it sounds like I’m tooting my own horn, know that none of that really matters when I suddenly wake up and feel the cold chill realizing that I have royally screwed something up.

Our recent cover, about EL&P’s Utility of the Year Public Service Electric & Gas, is Exhibit No. 1. We worked hard on that article, detailing PSE&G’s vast accomplishments and obvious worthiness. We put the cheater glasses on and examined every little detail in the copy. In the end, though, we failed by writing the wrong acronym on the most visible page of the whole thing. We didn’t catch it, but it caught us and bit us good.

One letter doesn’t seem like much. Yet it is a crucial thing. Our credibility is judged by what we get right and what we get wrong. PSE&G has been rated as the Mid-Atlantic region’s most reliable utility for more than a decade by PA Consulting, while customers have also ranked it tops or high in the J.D. Power studies consistently. PSE&G deserved a perfect issue to highlight its award, and we flubbed that.

Good thing I know my limitations and also that it’s a wise world which places the deeper responsibilities into more capable hands. I cannot imagine the burdens of the president or the soldier or even the modern electric utility.

Day to day, these companies oversee thousands of miles of lines, millions of meters and countless MW and kV which pulsate hither and yon. It’s quite amazing just how often things go right. In fact, I cannot remember the last time power to my house was disrupted due to an outage, although Mother Nature or old equipment will make it so sometime. And even when that happens I will quickly see utility workers in all due haste hitting the road to make it right ASAP.

Failure is not an option, but it is legion in my line of work and maybe your’s. As Forrest Gump intoned when he stepped into the mess while running, “It happens.” And there’s this: “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall,” Confucious supposedly said.

So we had a big fall at EL&P, and we regret it deeply. It’s inexcusable, it hurts and we pick ourselves up to try and do better if there’s a next time.

Rod Walton, senior editor


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