I read the latest edition of National Geographic magazine this week and saw an article and a fairly confronting image about a starving polar bear. I'm sure many people reading this article have seen the same image or one from the set taken by the photographer at the time. Since they were first taken and published, National Geographic published them on their site it has been estimated the images have been seen approximately 2.6 billion times (yes billion). At the initial time of publishing it was captioned as "This is what starvation looks like". But National Geographic added to this by saying the image is "what climate change is like" when they published it.
National Geographic magazine said that they were wrong to make this association as there really was no evidence that this emaciated polar bear was starving because of a lack of food induced by climate change. In fact it could have been starving for many reasons, from simple old age to illness of some sort. So what's my point?
National Geographic realize that when they get it wrong, they have to apologize and set the record straight. They are also smart enough to know that this doesn't erode their credibility, in fact it enhances it. The days of organizations never admitting to their mistakes (like most politicians), is ending. But old habits die hard.
For those of us in business, mistakes are opportunities, to not only learn, but also to be engaging with our audiences. By being brave enough to admit when we get it wrong, we send a message of our humility to our audience. People are increasingly receptive to this.
Over the past few years, I've noticed National Geographic publishing commentary about their mistakes, and not just putting a side note on page 150, but making their admission highly visible and meaningful. This is a credit to them as an organization in my opinion.
So my advice is that we can all learn from organizations like National Geographic. No matter how long you have been in business, and no matter how successful you have been, or are, there is always room for humility in business. We are always going to make mistakes, trying to deny them or ignore them is simply not a smart strategy. Our customers, our partners and the general public expect more from us and rightly so.