Blame and the Pressure to Figure Everything Out

Tom GibbonsLearning, Organization DevelopmentLeave a Comment

In follow-up to our last post – – I wanted to focus on a specific example of what this pressure to figure everything out can produce.  In a post by Chris Mowles on the Complexity and Management Centre blog titled “Wishful thinking combined with hubris” – – Chris discusses some of the ideas and thinking behind Ralph Stacey’s newest publication; Complexity and Organizational Reality (see review here by Chris Rodgers –  The book deals with the most recent economic crisis and the problematic mainstream thinking about organizations that try to understand such occurences.

One of the parts of Chris’ post highlights a letter that was sent to the Queen in response to her question to the London School of Economics as to the cause of the economic crisis.  One part of that letter reads:

In summary, Your Majesty, the failure to foresee the timing, extent and severity of the crisis and to head it off, while it had many causes, was principally a failure of the collective imagination of many bright people, both in this country and internationally, to understand the risks to the system as a whole.’

To me this excerpt portrays very well what can happen when we think we can and should be able to figure everything out.  When things do not go as planned often the first step is to allocate blame.  And those blamed are deemed incompetent to some degree or other.  This blame might be accepted with hubris as Chris points out or, as more often happens, attempts are made to refute the allocation of blame or assign it elsewhere.  Neither of these responses adds much value to honest reflection on what has occurred.

Perhaps even more damaging is that those not caught in the blame allocation process can easily turn away from any accountability, however large or small, they may have had in contributing to the situation at hand.  This then virtually stops any reflection at all on what accountability others, including ourselves, may have had.  Everything shifts to those held up to blame.

Typically someone or some group truly does have more direct accountability for the occurence of a specific situation.  However, if there was even some space for the consideration that things cannot be figured out in advance, that the future is highly uncertain, we could make more space for honest reflection by far greater numbers of people in how changes and different types of interactions might make things better.

As long as we continue to think that we should be able to figure everything out, we will be caught in this blame allocation game.  Since this tends to be the way we think organizations operate it is just a matter of time until each one of us is caught in it.  Have you ever wondered why turnover is higher than ever at managerial levels in organizations?  If you were one of those bright people mentioned above that had a failure of imagination you might be seriously considering moving on to avoid that label.

It is really time, I think, to seriously question how we think about organizations and this idea that everything can be figured out.

Author – Tom

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