Look Back to Learn, Not Blame

When something does not go “according to plan” or just flat goes awry, looking back is necessary in order to better learn how to look ahead.  Beneficial looking back is not done to “name names”, not to put on the “we erred” sack cloth and ashes (in our me-centric society, “we” is always the other guys), then waste resources, energy and time exacting vengeance. The “Cliff’s Notes” version is simply “shoot first, ask questions later” a disastrous action that not only often pillories the wrong people at great cost to them and to the enterprise, but also ingrains destructive defensiveness in everyone else.

Beneficial “looking back” must recapitulate how we got “here” from “there”, the basis of planning assumptions and implementing actions, what changed, weighed in the context of the facts in play today and the best estimates into the foreseeable future.

Somewhere, “we” lost the knowledge to help people beneficially learn about and acknowledge their mistakes, and then foster constructive action to correct and move on in a new direction. The only reason to continue to pillory those one deems errant – “no forgiveness ever unless you are a useful tool for my cause” – is to selfishly promote oneself, unless there is no change in behavior.  

Systems and processes are sold as the path to an Ideal World, with compliant, automaton-like followers kept from error by the ubiquitous checklist, the peer group, and the eagle-eyed superior.  The system that proposes to perfect mankind has a major flaw – it exacts vengeance against anyone that upsets the plan, through continual pillorying until they break.  The cover story of “you have to break a few eggs to make progress toward the ideal” blithly writes off a host of evils.  The ditches along the road toward man-made perfection are filled with the victims of populist visionaries.  Is that hard-bought perfectionism working out?  Look around our society, nations and environment today to see the extent of the ruins. 

If you revel in that “blame game”, you are the physical realization of “the definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over hoping for a different outcome”.  Successful, ethical leaders of good causes do not take that route.

With humble introspection, and with a respectful sharing of lessons learned with others, reformation can occur – the identification and correction errors and resumption of a rightful course under new circumstances. Skeptical Empiricism may be a really good analytical tool to incorporate rather than unverifiable formulas from the “trust me” experts or “New Enlightenment” social psycho-babble from self-proclaimed intellectual and societal superiors – whether “conservative” or “liberal”.

The great catastrophes of the past two centuries grew out of their hubris! 

The next step, as Nassem Taleb encourages, is to learn how not to be “the turkey” in the face of allegedly unforeseeable events. That learning is difficult, unpredictable, and must occur in “real-time”.

Many people and organizations are working on such Recapitulation, Reformation and Renaissance, across the economic, religious, cultural, educational, environmental and public service sectors.  They are innovating with an eye on “shipping” healthy outcomes, not just self-justifying philosophizing.

Sadly, many “leaders” seem to have the goal of ensuring the repetitive insanity of society, a false status quo, but one that they believe they can control to their own benefit. Often, the systems didn’t fail -their operators quit learning, repeating experiments and updating the systems.  Often, systems that crashed did so not due to initial poor assumptions and design, but simply by outliving design parameters, environment and usefulness – while those who responsibility was to course-correct and revitalize the system have been mired in “who to blame” or willful blindness. 

“Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.” Winston Churchill.

It is time to learn and act.  Anyone who wants to keep wrestling over deck chairs on the Titanic, go right ahead – only one lesson will be learned from that, and the experiment is not repeatable. In the end, your payoff for boot-on-the-neck vengeance and self-enriching victimizing will be a negative ROI (Return on Investment). 

On the other hand, a lot of people have the will, the “gumption” and the “tough love” to change course,  helping others to do the same with patient grace and mercy.  They help change the world for the good.

If you’re not one of them, find one and hang on!


About randysrules

From a professional background in architecture, community and regional planning, urban design, leadership, and fine arts, this blog provides insights on ethics, leadership, architecture/planning/urban design, Venice, and whatever intrigues me at the time. Enjoy!
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