Don’t apologize for your work. Ever.

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We see it basically every week for Makeover Monday. People submit a viz and apologize in that same tweet for one of the following: for being late, for keeping it simple, for lacking motivation, for not vizzing in the previous week, for not sticking to the 60min limit, or for running out of time to complete the idea they originally had.

Why? Why do people apologize in the same breath as presenting their work? That immediately puts them on the back foot and it’s such a shame because it casts a shadow over their work and, at least in my opinion, makes me doubt the quality of it before I’ve even looked at it.


Own your work

Now, I understand that people can feel uncertain when publishing something to the internet for everyone to see and comment on. It’s scary and we want people to be kind and gentle with their feedback, rather than ripping us to shreds. By sneaking into the room, dropping the paper on the desk and slowly backing the door as we apologize profusely for creating whatever it is we created, we’re trying to soften the potential blow. Are we actually uncertain of the quality of our work or do we just want to set the other person’s expectations really low so that whatever we did stands out with sheer brilliance?


Stop apologizing.

I would like to encourage everyone to stop apologizing and just own your work. Fully.

If you don’t stand behind your work, why should anyone else?

Make sure you deliver work you are happy with.

What if you don’t have enough time, resources, support, etc. to create your best work? Well, no one does. Most of us battle those limitations every day and you just have to roll with it. There will never be the perfect time, the perfect team and the perfect project happening all at once.

You have to work with what you’re given and make the most of it.

When someone gives you a task to do that seems impossible or at least very difficult, you can go through your options:

  • You can do the whole task at a lower level of quality or with a delay of the due date,
  • You can do a large part of of the task within the required timeframe and to an acceptable level of quality, or
  • You can do a very specific part of the task to a high level of quality and within the time constraints.

Something along those lines should apply. Which do you choose? That’s for you to work out.

Quality matters

Personally, my approach is that quality comes before quantity every time. I have a lot more things on my task list than I could ever hope to accomplish, but I ensure that when I pick up a project or initiative, I put everything into it.

Attention to detail is an important aspect of quality, because no matter how thorough your arguments, research and analysis into a topic, if your PowerPoint slides are ugly, full of typos and badly designed, you won’t win over anyone. If your data model is brilliant but unworkable because of the complexity of your organisation, the idea soon becomes useless. If your project plan will let you hit every milestone (in theory) but you didn’t plan for 50% of your team being on leave at the same time for 2 weeks, it’s not going to work.

The quality of your work becomes your signature

Show that you care

It is important to show that you care about every part of the process.

Having consistency throughout your work not only let’s you demonstrate your expertise and dedication, but reflects who you are as an employee, team member and as a person.

When you deliver high quality work every time, people will seek you out as they appreciate what you deliver. It shows you care about your work and you don’t unnecessarily ‘burden’ your colleagues with additional tasks, such as fixing mistakes you could have prevented.

It also shows you’re reliable and conscientious and you care about your organisation’s goals. Because that’s why you have a job there in the first place, to help achieve those goals.

There is no need to apologize

Going back to apologizing, the point is that delivering outstanding work means you have nothing to apologize for.

Does it feel like to big a task to deliver outstanding work? Many people don’t give it their all when they’re working, so by doing your job to the best of your abilities and taking pride in what you do, you’re already outstanding, because it makes you stand out.

When you apologize before anyone even questioned what you’ve done, you’re not just scratching the foundations you’ve just built, but you’re actually blowing them up.

A food analogy

Imagine you’re at a restaurant and the waiter brought your dish, saying ‘sorry, I don’t think this is very good, the chef was kind of in a rush and didn’t have all the ingredients. Enjoy!’

Are you actually going to enjoy it? You’re likely to find many things wrong with the dish, because your expectations have been set before you even take that first bite.

Instead, now comes a waiter with a beaming smile, carefully placing the plate in front of you, explaining the dish in all ist mouth-watering glory and in the corner of the restaurant you spot the chef smiling at you, eager to see what you think of her creation.

You’ll have a very different dining experience, won’t you? Even if the two dishes taste exactly the sameā€¦

Some practical suggestions

Let’s take that back to our work examples and actually, let’s talk about Makeover Monday submissions again.

Here is what I recommend you do:

  1. Don’t apologize for being late: you’re not late. There is no deadline, we’re not your high school teachers, you’re free to do the weekly challenges in whatever way you see fit and that works for you. We simply provide you a weekly viz and dataset for you to work on. We would love it if no one ever apologized again for ‘being late’. Please.
  2. Don’t apologize for keeping it simple: Keeping it simple is good, that’s what matters. If your apology is not genuine and another way of saying ‘I couldn’t be bothered this week, so I just did something in 10min’ then that’s not an issue either but there is no need for it. If you can create a genuinely simple makeover and present it well (not just throw something on the page), that’s a win in my opinion.
  3. Don’t apologize for missing a week or several weeks in a row. This project is for you. Any time you participate is a chance to learn something. We don’t keep track (see point 1: we’re not your high school teachers), we don’t mind whether people participate weekly, monthly, or however they want. What we do care about is that when you participate, you give it a good crack and have a chance to learn, improve and develop your skills.
  4. Don’t apologize for running out of time. The 60min time limit is a suggestion, not a rule. If you don’t have time for your ‘big idea’, create something smaller or simpler but do it well. We would rather see a great bar chart, that is formatted well, has a succinct and clear title, maybe some annotations to show the insights, and a footer with data sources etc., than be presented with a half-arsed 2×2 dashboard with questionable design choices and no clear messages. Simple is good.
  5. Don’t apologize for lacking motivation. We all do at some point. Sometimes we just don’t feel like doing a viz, other times we don’t find the topic interesting, but we want the practice. That’s okay. Just don’t mention it, because again, it casts a shadow over your work before people have even looked at it.

In short: don’t submit an apology, submit your viz and own it. Stand behind what you did.

If/when you get feedback on your work, then it’s your chance to explain the why, the how, etc. and also to make changes as required to improve it.

Own your work and convince your audience

We don’t expect perfection, we don’t get things right all the time either. You will find though, that taking pride in your work, really owning it and standing up for what you did, will serve you well far beyond Makeover Monday. Present your work with confidence and take that confidence from a short tweet of 140 characters back to your day job, the team meeting and the boardroom presentation.

Of course not everyone will agree with you and heap praise on you all the time. But when you pitch your work with conviction every time, you have a much better chance of winning over the others in the room. I promise.

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