Errors and Learning
Imagination and Social Change
“There is a lot to treasure in a flop” – Deborah Meaden in the RSA magazine, Issue 4 2022
‘Faulty reasoning’ – Bartleby in the Economist, Jan 19, 2023
In a few weeks where the UK political headlines have been about post-hoc determination of intent in tax errors, I read Bartleby’s piece about blame culture and learning and Meaden’s on failure.
For Bartleby, if only we can know what the intent was in errors. If we could, then we would know when to assign blame. As we can’t prescribe this in advance, we push for organisational policies that support no blame. Policies that reward transparency after the event. The prize of systemic learning over and above individuals being assigned blame for intentional mistakes.
Except we don’t, because we’re human and we take the short-cut of assigning blame, and it takes a lot more effort and systemic work to be open and transparent.
Meaden’s article takes the well-versed entrepreneurial narrative of ‘mistakes’ as preconditions of innovation and success.
Both these articles hint at the powerful behavioural forces in play in short soundbite articles. For Meaden and individual errors, the trick is to learn quickly and adapt your plans. Don’t blame yourself, it’s about testing the boundaries of what is possible. For Bartleby, it’s recognising the bias to first blame others.
Reflecting on them both then, there is also the behaviour of conformity that can be in tension with learning. We are social beings and the draw to conform is strong. Being found out to have done something different may be rewarded as heroic or genius in one set of circumstances, or terrorist or fool another.
As Bartleby rightly points out, people in positions of power have great influence on organisational behaviour. Taking this further, discovering collective blind-spots and being able to be heard, takes a certain type of power. Policies have to play to this reality to work. Policies have to work with the system of connected human beings.
Imagination and Social Change
“It was the first time I heard black men empowered, express their imagination, express their creativity in a way that made us dream more. It was important.”
I am enjoying this 4 part documentary charting the relationship between the development of hip hip and the political and social history of black America, majoring on New York from the 1970s onwards.
Written and produced by Chuck D, one of the lead hip hop artists of the late 1980s and since, with various African American academics.
Exposes the connections between social, economic and political exclusion. That unintentionally formed the creative, artistic spaces for black people to socialise, connect and organise.
Such a strong call in this programme to think about our dreams and identities, the impact of identifying as empowered and creative. The impact of the social spaces in enabling change to happen. So important to reflect on history to imagine how to develop networks and communities in the 2020s for good.
This podcast came out before Christmas when the nurses strikes first happened, and seems apposite as we’re still in the throws of wide-ranging industrial action. The episode takes the current political events to ask some questions about the nature of work.
It touches on a number of hot topics such as what conditions enable productivity, and the relationship between work and higher wellbeing. Autonomy, purpose, duty, fulfilment, status, all touched on.
So interesting to hear people wrestling with these different perspectives and experiences. It’s the intersection between different worldviews that’s playing out right now in our workplaces. Absolutely driving the issues we’re dealing with about how to be productive, how to invest, and how to be well.
In particular, the sense of status and nobility in public services in exchange for material sufficiency, feeling very ‘of its time’. The binary view of vocation (expert and noble) vs labour (factory work for money), omitting current know-how on productivity in front-line work (not least the 1940s and 1970s developments of women at work).
It’s an easy 45 minutes to spend listening to experts you may shout at or love. But the frustration comes in not to be able to delve deeper at times.