The Fear of Being Wrong

Our air conditioning department manager convinced me to bid the heating and air conditioning work on three school additions. I was nervous about bidding the jobs because the specifications called for chilled water air conditioning—systems we had little experience installing. However, he convinced me he knew what he was doing and if we got the jobs, we could perform the work. We won the bid, installed the systems and they did not operate.

The problem resulted from chilled water not moving through the system at a high enough volume. At first we believed the lack of flow resulted from entrapped air—so we hooked garden hoses to the piping and ran the pumps continuously to remove the air. Sure enough, with the nozzle of the hose in a bucket of water, you could see huge bubbles of air belching from the pipes; but the air conditioning units still didn’t work.

The architect decided the systems were was clogged by dirt from unclean piping.  When they reported this, the school authorities threatened our contractor customers, who contacted our bonding company—the situation was getting worse.

Not understanding the intricacies of chilled water-cooling, I was afraid we had done something wrong. Day after day, I spent hours at each job site, running the pumps in hope the systems would purge themselves. During school board meetings I defended our work and avoided answering questions from the local media. We were spending thousands of dollars trying to make the systems work; we were not getting paid and our reputation was being ruined.

At my wit’s end, I decided to hire a consulting engineer to review the plans, specifications and our installation. I forwarded the documentation to the engineer and arranged for him to tour the jobs. A couple of days later he called and told me there was no need to inspect our work; that upon reviewing the plans he had determined the pumps were too small to maintain the required water flow. I forwarded his written report to our customers and the problem was solved—in fact, we were paid to change out the pumps. I made a serious error by undertaking a job that I did not understand and I compounded that error by being afraid to be wrong.

The fear of being wrong, can lead to not being able to uncover the cause of a problem and make it worse.  A decision based upon incorrect facts is bound to be an incorrect decision—before determining a course of action, make sure you have all the facts.


It is wise to direct your anger towards problems — not people; to focus your energies on answers — not excuses.” – William Arthur Ward


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