I’m studying the work of Phillip Tetlock these days. His work is mostly about political prediction but I came across a concept that is particularly interesting. He writes about leaders making a bad decision but justifying that decision with “we made the right mistake.” In other words, we didn’t do the right thing, but if we had been right, the consequences of not doing what we did would have been far worse.
Yes, it is as convoluted as it sounds.
But don’t we hear this every day? We might have over spent on the bailout but things would be much worse if we hadn’t. No weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but if he did have them, imagine where we’d be today.
This isn’t about politics. This is a business column.
Which do you think would give you the greatest benefit?
A. When you make a bad decision, accept that you are imperfect and try to understand what led to the decision.
B. When you make a bad decision, develop some internal justification for it because it’s important to focus on the positive.
This is a profound nugget of wisdom if you’ll take the time to think about it. How often do we miss a huge opportunity to not only learn from a mistake, but also to benefit? (Yes, we can learn without benefiting. There is a line in the Bible about “always learning but never coming to the truth…”)
It’s one thing to say, “I wouldn’t do that again given the chance.” Far wiser to admit, to yourself, that mistakes were made and this is why. And next time I will do this.
The benefit isn’t in admitting the mistake; it’s in looking at why.
There is no easy method to self-score decisions unless you set up a log book. I might advocate that if your business has a problem as many do.
If things are running smoothly, you can improve by doing more self critiquing. Further, this is a good subject to kick around at staff meetings.
You can recognize the danger sign if you hear justification for bad decisions. It would be worse today if we hadn’t done…
Bottom line? When we justify bad decisions, we could be doing better but we’re letting ego get in the way. By the way, blaming others is a form of justification.
Chris Reich, TeachU