Making New Mistakes
We've said that mistakes are part of life, learning, and progress. They are, but not always. When you make the same mistakes a second, third, and fourth time, you're wasting time. But many people do just that, and more often than you'd think in an organizational or business setting.
There's an old saying that insanity is doing the same thing twice and expecting a different result. Such is the reality of too many organizations. Even when a course of action seems fruitless, management, faced with challenges, will try to do more of the same.
Often a kiss of death in organizations is the phrase “We don't do things that way,” and all its variations. It is a sign that the people in charge are actually terrified of any change and will work to keep things as they've always been.
When you think of this in relative peace and quiet, it does seem mad. For example, when a company is not making enough money, it might set higher quotas on salespeople, assuming that revenue is some mystical issue of will power. The big three American automobile manufacturers are classic examples. For years, leadership saw that people weren't buying their cars and reacted with discounts and interest-free loans. They focused on price rather than improving the quality and design of the products themselves.
The practice isn't constrained to things an organization has done itself. It extends to ideas and procedures that become established in an industry, study, or area of endeavor. You can do the same old thing without having been the one to do it the first time.
Reason for Repetition
Back to Chrysler, Ford, and GM for a moment. During the long periods of declining sales, managers could have asked themselves what Toyota and other companies were doing to capture the interest — and dollars — of the public. But to invite the question was to consider acting differently than before. Yes, we're back to that biggest of bugaboos: change. Life doesn't proceed in a direct way, and we humans don't like that.
What bigger change can you face than dealing with a mistake? Suddenly, what you have been doing falls apart and all your good intentions fail. Reality suggests some major change, but the human animal doesn't like that alternative — in change lies the recognition of mortality and our own fallibility.
Another reason we continue with the same practices, particularly when others do them as well, is because all those examples can't be wrong. Could so many people really be ignorant and not know that they were wrong? Oh, yes, indeed. At one time, many people assumed that the world was flat.
Rationale for Repetition
We don't like change, and so when we make mistakes, we all too often return to our first plan of attack. Only that's not what we tell ourselves. Instead, we rationalize our behavior. You might tell yourself that the problem was not what you did but the way you did it — which, to be fair, is sometimes true. You might tell yourself that many others do the same thing. This chosen course of action must work or all those others wouldn't do it. Maybe the rationalization is that others in the organization wouldn't accept something different. That, too, is sometimes true.
But this is all rationalization. You must remember that there is nothing wrong with mistakes — yours or anyone else's — so long as they are honest in nature and you learn from the experience.