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What you can learn from an embarrassing mistake I made

By |  October 25, 2021 0 Comments
Photo: Travis Moore

Photo: Travis Moore

“We learn from failure, not from success.” — Bram Stoker, creator of Dracula

With Halloween just around the corner, it seems fitting to begin this article with a quote from the creator of one of the scariest characters ever conceived. Based on Stoker’s theory, I should be about the smartest guy on the block. Looking back over a long career, I can clearly remember many of my mistakes that greatly influenced me going forward in both my professional and personal life. Over the next few articles, I plan on sharing a few of these mistakes in the hope that others can learn from them as I did, and maybe miss a few of the potholes along their own path. 

One of the most humiliating mistakes I made occurred during one of my very early visits as a USGA agronomist covering what was then called the Mid-Continent Region for the Green Section. A small course in northern Nebraska signed up for a visit and even though visits were fairly cheap in those days, it was still a sizable chunk out of their very small budget. I was really nervous going this far north given my limited experience on bluegrass, bentgrass and Poa annua at that point in my career. 

Wrong diagnosis

Arriving at the course, I was met with a group of eight to ten club members and the superintendent and we headed off to the first green. About 50 yards out, I could see a series of parallel lines going across the green that were obviously the result of a hydraulic leak from the greensmower. I was actually relieved since having had plenty of leaks during my tenure as a superintendent. I knew I could start off the visit by sharing some useful information to repair the damage. Reaching the green, I knelt down to feel the hydraulic fluid while I began to discuss repair options. It was then that the lines moved. 

Only then did I look up and see the power lines adjacent to the green. The lines on the green were shadows, not hydraulic fluid. Not surprisingly, about half of the folks left having confirmed their suspicion that the money for the visit could have been better spent elsewhere. I spent the rest of the visit trying to recover my lost credibility, apparently unsuccessfully since the club never took another visit.

Lesson No. 1

Make sure you have all the facts before you voice your opinion and don’t overlook the obvious. Trying to prove your knowledge by making a snap assessment of the problem can lead to mistakes and embarrassment. Look for simple solutions first!

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