Wednesday, July 07, 2010

We Love Pointing Fingers

Best-selling author Joseph Grenny has a terrific article on the Business Week website titled "Ass-Kicking as an Influence Strategy." Grenny examines the BP catastrophe and examines the impulse on the part of many actors, including President Obama, to "find the bad people who did bad things and punish them for their malicious motives." What's wrong with that impulse? Well, Grenny certainly does not seek to defend BP's management. However, he's making a much larger and more important point. He's making it clear that we may not learn as much as we should from an incident if we frame it simply as a case of individual error or maliciousness. As a result, we find ourselves failing again in the future because we have not fully understood the true causes of a failure. Here's Grenny's explanation:

"Frame it as "whose ass needs kicking?" and your solution will naturally be reduced exclusively to punishing, reproving, or replacing. And while these actions may seem appropriate after thoughtful analysis, to begin with them as the sole focus or dominant objective undermines the quality of the search. If fixing blame eclipses fixing problems, the former often comes at the expense of the latter."


Randy Mayeux said...

I agree with this point, and it reminded me of The Checklist Manifesto by Gawande, and an interview in, with James Bagian: Risky Business: James Bagian—NASA astronaut turned patient safety expert—on Being Wrong by Kathryn Schulz.
( Mr. Baigian makes the point that if we do not find the systemic cause of problems, then we never get them fixed.
I blogged briefly about this here:

Michael Roberto said...

Great point, Randy. I interviewed Jim Bagian for a case study I wrote about the Columbia shuttle accident. He's terrific.