In an earlier post, “Just Say Anything”, I touched on a phenomenon which may have had at least part of its genesis in the behaviors of Madison Avenue folks as they try to create pitches for any and all products good or bad. Say anything you want as long as it advances your agenda.

In my teaching, I emphasize the value of searching for root causes. The “Toyota Way” by Dr Jeffery Liker, is about Toyota’s success, especially how they produce cars of consistently high quality. It presents the principled approach of the company. One of Toyota’s fourteen principles is, “Continuously solving root problems drives organizational learning”.

A mechanism that blocks learning and other paths to improvement is blaming. Casting blame may be perceived as benefiting you or your tribe. John Kerry was quoted recently as having noted on a TV talk show that he, “believe[d] this is without question the Tea Party downgrade” as he discussed S&P’s recent downgrade of US debt. Just say anything, John.

Presumably he thinks that those who follow him and his tribe will rally around that notion and that he and the tribe will be strengthened. It may actually be true to some extent since a large portion of the population will not or have not the time to do the analysis of such a statement. So we are left with something substantially short of a root cause analysis and we are certainly far from being able to learn anything.

Many organizations like the US Government learn but they seem to learn things that make them stronger (larger) when perhaps the “problem” needing to be solved requires them to be weaker (smaller). Many corporations seem to have a similar malady and truly resist learning.

Great examples of refusing to learn abound in corporate America. Consider the content companies and their responses to the digitization of their products. Music, television, movies, books are all being consumed in ways these companies never conceived and consequently have been ill prepared to manage. Why? Because they resisted learning.

Having learned nothing we go on to make ever deteriorating conclusions upon which we base certain decisions. Unlike Toyota with their ever improving quality these companies are stuck with ever deteriorating decision making. They continually rush to mediocrity.

Avoiding the blame phenomenon is not always that easy. When something goes wrong there are usually many notions of how it happened and those notions often sound like blame. If Joey only had checked the circuit breaker, I might not have gotten the shock. To deal with this phenomenon, the person seeking the root cause must put a no blame premise on the table first. Even if blame could be ascribed, it will not serve the purpose of finding the root cause, achieving the greater learning, and actually solving the problem.

So as the Washington folks flail around casting blame in every direction, the country continues to suffer with little or no hope of solving any of its problems because they will never be understood at the level necessary for effective solutions to be developed.

What kind of person does it take to be able to have a blame free discussion? Has it become completely impossible for a politician to do a root cause analysis? Has it EVER been possible for them to do it?

What are the forces that keep this from happening? Not being a political science person, I can only guess like the rest of taxpayers. So, guess I will. In business you have to be willing to put your personal concerns aside and look only at the problem. As noted above this is really difficult in business but it seems impossible in politics.

A politician is constantly in a beauty contest and is always preening in some way or another (see John Kerry quote above). This takes many forms. Kissing up to contributors. Currying the favor of unions, lobbyists, and other interest groups. For every thing a politician does an interest group either exists or will soon spring up.

Values are important. If you are going to make a technical decision like Toyota often does, the values are easy to grasp. Being out of tolerance by x amount is bad. If you are making decisions about how to help the indigent, values can get complicated. If you are trying to please all of those interest groups, values are almost impossible. “I was for it before I was against it.”

What to do… More later.

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2 Responses to Blame

  1. Hey Peter

    Figured I would drop in and see what’s up, since you spoke up on my blog. My first visit to your site. Very nice looking. I see a great deal of hope and belief in your missives. I see very little cynicism relative to the systems and institutions comprising our experiment in industrial civilization, and the Curriculum that is drawing us collectively and ineluctably to the precipice of global economic, social, and ecological collapse. There is a faith that permeates your writing, which I can no longer seem to share. I will check back occasionally, and hope to see more of your comments on mine. best, sandy

    • pcrowell says:


      Thanks for taking a look. I whoosh back and forth between despair and joy. Despair from what I see, joy from inside me. I have a notion that the answer is inside all of us, we just have to: take our money out of the failed institutions, disconnect from the consumption machine, get back to making things, farm, etc., etc.

      The world looks a lot different from my now small town perspective vs. NYC.

      Best, Peter

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