A Surprising MBA Lesson

7 Mar

The most important lesson I’ve learned is a pretty simple one.  It’s applicable to everyone – even those not in business management.  I wish I had learned it years ago. But I’m not sure it is worth $120,000 (although maybe when paired with the diploma and Boston’s inflation, it is?)  My diploma had better be etched in thin gold foil or something.

The lesson is simple.

Failure and fault are not inseparable.

There is a pervasive belief in business that failures must be blamed on someone.  And if you speak up about the failure, well, it’s a good guess that you’ll be pegged with the blame.

We all know there is some truth to this, right?

The issue is that failings go unreported for much longer (costing the company money and wasting time and resources) because people are worried about blame.

No one wants to be at fault.

Executives say 70-90% of failings are treated as blameworthy.  When in fact, they estimate 2-3% deserve to be treated as such.

Sure, some things are blameworthy.  If you failed (at your job, at a test project, at a class assignment, a marriage, etc.) because of deviance (violating laws or prescribed practices – unethical behavior, cheating, lying) then you are at fault.  You may be alone in deserving blame, it may be shared.  If someone inadvertently deviates from prescribed practices, are they to be blamed?  Probably sometimes yes, sometimes no.

What if the person doesn’t have the skills, knowledge or training to execute a job?  Is it really their fault when they fail?  What if a competent person follows a prescribed practice that is faulty or incomplete?  What if the task required of the individual is too much for any one person to handle consistently?  Is the individual at fault?  Should a boss or manager deserve some of the blame?

And what about when future unanticipated events (weather, stock markets, trends and wants/desires) change abruptly?  And when a hypothesis proves false?  Or an experiment conducted leads to a possibility that was undesired or unexpected?  We learn a lot from those failings.  Sometimes they produce successes (you may not have created the drug you were supposed to for diabetes, but you may have invented one that helps with kidney functioning).  None of these failures are the fault of someone.

Failure is inevitable.  Some of the time.  (I’m not trying to tell you that everything you do will fail.  Just that if you never fail in life, you’re either 1) sitting on your couch doing nothing, and I would call that a failure or 2) disillusioned or 3) outright lying.)

I’m puzzling through this right now in regards to my running injury.  Today I ran 3.5 miles.  But the IT band pain is back. I am not yet healed.  Getting stronger, balancing better, building all kinds of muscle (my armpits hurt today) but I can’t run long distances pain free.  Was it my fault that I got injured?  Maybe.  Have I learned a lot about how to prevent that in future?  Yes.  Is getting stronger and learning how to be confident around 100 lb weights and TRX equipment and Bosu balls and gaining a new appreciation for the fact that our bodies have limits all failure?  No, I don’t think it is.  When a failure leads to knowledge and change and future success, it’s a good thing.

Running success – you can arrive anytime now!  Preferably by April 1st….


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