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The Big Story: Lyft Says Extra Zero in Earnings Report Was a Typo, Crushes Investors’ Spirits

“While the disastrous typo is certainly noteworthy, it also overshadowed a solid financial report from Lyft.”

Lyft’s lessons for healthcare and an ode to proofreading

By David Jarrard

You know that sinking feeling when you hit “send” just before you see the mistake in your email to the C-suite?

Imagine you’re on the Lyft leadership team. Last week, they shot out a press release with an extra zero in their earnings report, saying profits would grow by 500 basis points (or five percent) instead of the very admirable – but not astronomical – 50 basis points (or 0.5 percent).

Just a typo, right? How bad could it b?

In the 45 minutes between the Tuesday release and its correction, Lyft’s stock skyrocketed 62 percent, driven by AI bots with stock-buying-hair-triggers, before returning closer to earth.*

Though the typo was quickly set straight, the reputation hit to the company will linger.

“Anyone who thinks that typos don’t matter in this age of instant communications should take a lesson from Lyft,” wrote Jennifer Conrad at Inc. under her sharply headlined article “Lyft’s Typo Snafu Proves Small Details Can Have Big Ramifications.”

“Judging from the memes and news stories circulating after the error, that typo is overshadowing any progress the company made in the past year. It was ‘a debacle…that will be spoken about in Street circles for years to come,’ Daniel Ives, an analyst for Los Angeles-based brokerage and investment firm Wedbush, told CBS News.”

All the work that led to an important outcome was eclipsed by an extra zero.

Lyft’s quirky flub is a cautionary tale for all of us working daily to communicate clearly through the opaque complexity of healthcare delivery.

Lyft’s life lessons for us?

Lesson One: Industry jargon and gratuitously complicated language invite mistakes and misunderstanding.

Sound familiar, healthcare friends?

Lyft’s expensive typographical fumble “is one that likely could have been avoided if the company had avoided dreaded Wall Street jargon,” said MarketWatch, referring to “basis points,” “gross bookings” and other financial terms MarketWatch uses every day.

“The snafu shows how much Wall Street relies on and perpetuates its useless and mind-numbing jargon, which is probably not quickly understood by average retail investors. That’s another way the house wins.”

What other industry has self-imposed, confusing language that causes laypeople to misunderstand its very intent? What other industry’s words can seem to outsiders – such as media, lawmakers or patients – to be purposefully unclear, self–referential and self–protective?

We’ll wait while you share your organization’s definition of “charity care.”

Our industry’s cloudy, insider vocabulary is a disservice to the people we serve and to those who provide the service; in short, everyone who matters to us as communicators.

We may think such language protects when, instead, it isolates.

It’s time for a new healthcare provider dictionary.

Lesson Two: Small errors can have big consequences.

A little error can break trust. The message that a slipup can send is simple: If you can’t get the small things right, how can you be trusted with the big things?

One-time mistakes are easily dismissed by those who have a bit of grace to offer (and we all need it). Despite the tut-tutting Lyft earned from financial media last week, no one seriously questions the company’s integrity or hard work. The typo was unusual and self-reported.

The expectation, however, is that Lyft will triple-proof its next press release. What would you think of Lyft if it happened again?

The public has great trust in healthcare providers – in our physicians and nurses and our institutions. It’s rare that a single error will wound your organizational reputation. Instead, it’s the pounding, death-by-a-thousand-cuts mistakes, irritations and misunderstandings that erode our strength.

For instance, did the physician’s order get sent to the lab before the patient arrived? Is the family shocked by the bill with your logo on the invoice? Are the promised nursing supplies still not available? How many of these “typos” do providers get before their story turns sour?

Lesson Three: Proofreading matters.

Lyft is not the only one to have suffered the indignity of a typo-induced stock problem, we are reminded by The Wall Street Journal. People make mistakes. Of course, we won’t mention how NASA engineers missing a hyphen blew up a $170 million spacecraft or how forgotten washers made the wheels fall off one of Toyota’s new cars.

But back to proofreading. Let’s remind ourselves why we miss things and consider three things to make us better.

  • Time. Deadlines and distractions. It takes concentration and rhythm to create and review – two things hard to come by in a world of meetings, Teams messages and TikToks.
  • Confirmation bias. We tend to see what we want to see. It can be hard to recognize our own mistakes.
  • Fatigue. At the final review stages, we’re often tired of the piece we’ve been working on yet need to find that extra gear to push through when the finish line is in sight.

Who hasn’t been saved by close proofreading (and, by extension, great proofreaders)? Here are a few proofreading pointers.

  • Fresh eyes. An outside perspective can find mistakes and reveal unclear language. Find those people with the eye for detail and the confidence to ask, “What does this even mean?”
  • Read aloud. Especially if you lack a proofreader. Read slowly and clearly, as if you were reading to a crowd.
  • Apologize, correct and move on. Mistakes happen. When things go haywire – even to the tune of an extra zero – deal with the situation and try to give yourself some grace.

My bad,” said Lyft CEO David Risher, flagrantly using a sentence without a verb, but who’s watching for details at this point?

*Lyft stock hit a 52 week high on Friday before settling lower at close – roughly in line with its typo-induced spike. The market was willing to move on from the mistake but it’s a fair bet that investors will be just a bit wary of future reports.

Contributors: Emme Nelson BaxterDavid Shifrin
Image credit: Shannon Threadgill

*Lyft stock hit a 52 week high on Friday before settling lower at close – roughly in line with its typo-induced spike. The market was willing to move on from the mistake but it’s a fair bet that investors will be just a bit wary of future reports.