Derek Sivers

Programmer, writer, avid student of life. I make useful things, and share what I learn.

Articles → Resist the urge to punish everyone for one person’s mistake

The little diner near me has these big warning signs posted everywhere:

I think some little business owner needs a good hug. Poor guy. Every time someone upsets him, he punishes all his future customers forever.

When I was 6, I attended a strict little school in Abingdon, England. Early in the year, someone spilled grape juice. So they banished grape juice for the rest of the year. Later, someone spilled orange juice, so orange juice was banished for the rest of the year. Eventually we were allowed nothing but water.

Nine years ago, one guy tried to light his shoes on fire on a plane. Now for all future time, millions of people a day have to queue up to take our shoes off at the airport, because of that one dumb moment.

As a business owner, when you get screwed-over by someone, it’s tempting to make a big grand policy you think will prevent you from ever getting screwed-over again.

One employee can’t focus, and spends their time surfing the ’net. Instead of just firing or reassigning that person to more challenging work, the company installs an expensive content-approving firewall so that nobody can go to unapproved sites ever again.

One thief used a stolen credit card to make a purchase. Instead of acknowledging that was one out of 100,000 honest orders, the company makes all future customers fax a copy of their card and ID and wait days for verification.

It’s important to resist that simplistic, angry, reactionary urge to punish everyone, and step back to look at the big picture.

In the moment, you’re angry, and focusing only on that one awful person that did you wrong. Your thinking is clouded. You start thinking everyone is awful, and see the world as against you. This is a horrible time to make a new policy.

When one customer wrongs you, remember the 100,000 that did not.

When one employee goes bad, remember when you were an employee. Would you punish yourself?

You’re lucky to own your own business. Life is good.

You can’t prevent bad things from happening. Learn to shrug.

Resist the urge to punish everyone for one person’s mistake.