Just 1 Little Letter

The Latest Word from John Ed Mathison

Little things are extremely important. We tend to live in a world that is bent on bigness yet all the big things are made up of a lot of little things.

A little mistake can be costly. In the New Testament James writes about how a little match can set a whole forest on fire. A little rudder can misguide a huge ship. A little bit in a horse’s mouth determines which way the horse goes. Read James 3:3, 4.

Neil Alexander is the Publisher and President of the United Methodist Publishing House. He is a tremendous leader in the United Methodist Church. I am privileged to serve on that board.

Neil is a brilliant writer and speaker. He is an excellent businessman. He is an articulate theologian. He is extremely good at human relationships. But even the greatest people sometimes make a small mistake. Let me give you an example.

The United Methodist Publishing House is located in downtown Nashville. There is a lot of development in downtown Nashville and the property of the Publishing House could be prime property for some of that new development.

Recently at 9:58 a.m. the members of the board received an e-mail from Neil saying “In the win some/lose some category we have learned that our 201 8th Avenue headquarters is not out of the running in the race for the location for a new downtown hotel.”

That was exciting news. The Tower Investments was looking for property for Omni Hotels for a convention center hotel. They were expecting to pay about $20 million for 2.5 acres. What an opportunity!

In sending the e-mail, Neil got every word and every letter right except one. He accidently hit a “t” instead of a “w” in the word “now”. His e-mail said “our 201 8th Avenue headquarters is not out of the running.” It should have read “our 201 8th Avenue headquarters is now out of the running.” He went on to report that Omni was buying another piece of property nearby.

What is the value of just one letter in a long e-mail? You were really talking about $20 million, but one letter is the difference in being “in the running, or out of the running.”

A misplaced comma or the addition or omission of a letter or a word, can change the whole context of the message. It would be nice if the bank would add just an extra 0 to my account, or put a comma in the wrong place.

Even brilliant people make small mistakes. Even people, who are great writers and are in charge of publishing, can make a simple keyboard mistake.

I received another e-mail at 10:15 a.m. indicating the mistake. Neil apologized for the mistake and wrote “my fingers and mind were not in sync.”

Neil could have placed blame elsewhere – maybe the key on the computer temporarily changed, or the letters got switched in cyberspace, or he was distracted, or… He didn’t make excuses. He just admitted the mistake and corrected it. That’s the way to handle mistakes.

It made me feel better about myself to know that a man I admire so much could make a little mistake like that. It made me feel even better about him when I saw the way he handled it!

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