Even today, a few days into the year, I’m seeing tweets and articles talking about how to be happy, turning negative thoughts positive and the usual kind of turn over a new leaf stuff. I’m involved — I’ve started a video diary of my New Year’s Resolution in a bid to make me stick to it and as the clock crept towards midnight on December 31st, I was ready — feeling positive in a whole new way.

What I’ve discovered already in 2015 is that positivity and happiness are great things for yourself, but what about other people? What about when you hurt them by accident — when your well-intended actions create severely unexpected outcomes that beyond affecting you, affect others? I suppose what I’m asking is — who’s writing about what happens when you just royally fuck up?

I’ve already blogged about how I hate letting people down. The thing I enjoy most in life is supporting others and seeing them succeed. When that goes wrong, it’s painful.

After 4 months hard work and uncertainty in The Work Project, I came into 2015 ready to make things happen. Of all the seeds I planted in 2014, I could see some shoots starting to poke through, reaching for the sun. I rode into the New Year on a wave of positivity — this is going to be the year that things happen.

Then on January 2nd, I had a phone call. I’ve already done enough damage, so I’m going to keep the following description very anonymous and low on detail.

The call came from someone I had some work arranged with, on a contract they had worked hard to get. I’d been introduced to them in the first place by someone I really respect and hold on a pedestal.

I’m all about conversation. Every time I meet someone, I reach out to them and connect. When things align and an opportunity arises to offer them something of interest, an introduction, some help or support, I always do it. It’s not for money — I genuinely enjoy it and do it with the best of intentions in the knowledge that karma (or its equivalent) will eventually find a way to make good things happen for me.

The problem is, I don’t see hierarchy or organisational boundaries the way others do, particularly in the corporate world. I don’t hold with formality. I see people as people, human connections and opportunities to make things better for them or their organisations are always a good thing.

After a briefing day for the work in question, just before Christmas, I’d made myself a note to connect with one of the senior people at the end organisation we’d be delivering the work to — I liked some of the things they were saying, they resonated with my ideas around humanising organisations.

It was a couple of days before I got the chance to sit down and drop them a line…

In the meantime, something else I was doing brought up an opportunity for me to offer a free workshop on humanising organisations, in return for me being able to take a couple of video clips. It all seemed to align nicely — this wasn’t overlapping with the work I was doing there, it wasn’t competing with the people I was working with, I wasn’t trying to win a customer. This was something completely unrelated, something positive that I could offer to someone I was connecting with. It was just a great opportunity to have a conversation about human organisations with someone I could see was working on some of the themes.

So when I did get round to connecting, I didn’t think twice. I offered it, received a cordial response and thought nothing of it… until yesterday.

The phone conversation turned sour very quickly. A senior person at the end organisation had contacted the person I was going to be working with in January, asking why one of his people was contacting their organisation independently. It’s kicked off a shitstorm that, from what I was told on the phone, has put everything in jeopardy.

If it’s all as true as it seems, it has the following implications:

  • Loss of the contract my contacts have been working on for a long time.
  • Loss of income and livelihood for them.
  • Loss of a considerable amount of work for the 8–10 people I was due to work with (their income and livelihood).
  • Bad reflection on the friend who introduced me.

This makes me sick. I can deal with the personal embarrassment. I’m beyond ready to accept that my informality and readiness to approach people as people may have unwittingly circumnavigated some ridiculous corporate boundaries I fail to recognise. I’m confused why it should be such a big deal for the end organisation. Mostly though I’m sad, really sad, that actions I thought nothing of and were in keeping with my values of being open and giving could create such a horrific mess for everyone else.

I’m ready to accept that these people won’t want to work with me now. As much of a shame as that is, I just hope they keep the contract. I’d be as devastated as I am confused if they lost it, particularly as I only took the work on as I genuinely believed I could bring something positive to support the team.

As for me, in one move I’ve lost all the confidence I spent a long time building last year. The excitement I had at taking a side-step to do this work in a new sector has evaporated as I realise that maybe I should have stuck to what I know. Really though, it’s the sadness at what I’ve unknowingly done that weighs heavy.

The fact this has happened says everything about the state of organisations and the workplace, the politics and the softly-stepped, merry dances they require. Dances that ignore human connection, flexibility, insight and opportunity in favour of restrictive behaviours and structures.

It’s a massive insight for The Work Project. Ironically, it may be the thing that kills it.

I’m going to be calling back to offer more apologies on Monday, I’m not sure they will make a difference and I certainly won’t be trying to explain myself. It’s not the time or place. I’ll also be calling my friend this afternoon to talk it through, the friend who had the faith in me to bring me into this. The friend I’ve let down.

Sometimes I pride myself on my petulance in the face of corporate structure — the ability to stare it down and just ask why.

Today the only word I have is sorry.

By Andy Swann on January 3, 2015.
Exported from Medium on July 15, 2016.