We can talk all the live-long day about keeping clean data but there will still be corrupt data and human blunders. What happens when it’s our own damned fault? This topic is à propos after a recent chat with a Database Administrator about the realities of mistakes in spite of the precautions we take.

It’s easy to say “just take ownership of a mistake” but let’s admit that mistakes are embarrassing. We want calamities to be someone else’s failing. When we blunder in our jobs, we dream up poverty, scandal and The Scarlet Letter.

Here’s what happened when I messed up a critical calculation with someone’s money and the lessons learned.

Corrupt Data - Wordle

Like many months prior, I had finished calculating commissions, submitted the final numbers for approval, and started archiving the files and locking up the binders. And then I heard,

“Oz, can you come here for a second?”

The Comptroller figured that someone was processed for $1000 too much. Oh Damn! I quickly recalculated. YUP. $1000 too much. I found the corrupt data and the cause.

Now this goes beyond one salesperson because it’s also a delay in the payroll process. We were near Accounting’s deadline. If we miss the deadline, Accounting gets pissed because they have to do a manual process instead of their automated process. It might even mean mailing paper checks instead of direct deposit. Delays were not good.

WHAT ELSE? There’s more at stake than $1000
A question about a goof on one person’s commissions raises questions about the other 36 salespeople.

There’s all the self-doubt, the embarrassment, and worry about being fired and made a national spectacle. I got so nervous about this and called the one person who could talk me down off the ledge: my friend Patrick Richards of Richards Patent Law. We met for lunch and sat on one of the concrete benches downtown Chicago. The dialog:

Patrick Oz
Do you know what went wrong? Yes.
How did you respond? I recalculated and saw the mistake I made, and showed the Comptroller what happened. Then I checked the rest of the sales team.
Did the person get the money? No.
CONCLUSION: there is nothing to worry about

Patrick summarized:

When you try to hide things or shift the blame, that’s when you get into trouble. That’s when you can end up fired or even jailed. Even if the salesperson was paid the $1000 and the mistake is caught later, the bottom line is own it, make the corrections, look for preventive measures to avoid future mistakes. So, everything went as it should have gone:

  • The layer in between me and payroll functioned as designed
  • I owned what happened and understood exactly what went wrong
  • We did a quick check for corrupt data through the rest of the sales team and found no other errors
  • We met Accounting’s deadline


Good Data Management and Data Stewardship include layers of approval and lots of trust because mistakes will happen. As hard as we try, we can’t ensure 100% integrity in our databases, reports, queries, PHP code, and spreadsheets. There’s going to be crap data and corrupt data. We employ things like crossfooting and Data Management policies, and still something goes wrong. So, what’s the bottom line?

We’re human beings, we screw up
we have to trust each other and adjust.
Take ownership of being a human being.

We’re all just doing our part in keeping the world’s data clean.