Organizations stagnate for a variety of reasons. One that I have come to recognize through the work of Dr. Russell Ackoff is a systemic, abiding fear of failure. Most leaders are gripped with this fear. If you think through our accounting structures in public and private organizations you start to understand why employees find complacency as the “safe bet” to career growth over evolution and change.
To dig deeper, Dr. Ackoff describes the two key types of errors: errors of commission, and errors of omission. An error of commission is one where something is tried and later fails. Our current accounting systems are built to track these errors and they do it well. As do our internal “cultural” tracking systems through mores and norms.
Jim’s initiative was a complete disaster! What a terrible leader and failure he must be.
This is compared to an error of omission, where an organization or leader fails to do something they should have done. There is a stark contrast in the way our culture and accounting methodologies track this type of failure. In short – they DON’T. In your organization, how often are employees blamed for NOT creating change? We pay lip service to improvement, but rarely do employees have their feet held to the fire regarding too little change and missed opportunity.
We’ve Learned Our Lesson
So what’s the lesson? For employees, the lesson is that the only error that we seem to track, and can have an effect on your longevity, career and social standing are errors of commission.
You effed up Jane! Now what do you have to say for yourself!
Yes, our organizations tend to focus on errors of commission and track failures this way. Now ask yourself this question. What do you suppose is the most likely strategy employees utilize to protect themselves from the fear of failing when they try new things?
You guessed it… They try NOTHING. They play not to lose…and sadly lose the ability to be great in the process.
Maybe we don’t have exactly what we want, but as they say, no one’s ever been fired for buying IBM.
The key to solving the complex, sometimes mind boggling system problems we face every day is to help craft an environment that accepts failure and disdains apathy. Those creative souls trapped in your organizations and on your teams will never produce amazing results if leaders don’t free them from the crippling (and real) fear of failure and begin to demand experimentation.
This will ultimately teach us, allow us to develop, and expand our ability to solve complex and growing system challenges. Paradoxically, failure allows us to learn how to be great. Maybe we should start looking at failure as evidence of the drive for greatness.