It's time to develop a LEARNING CULTUREFeb 26, 2021
When I read the open letter from Martin Sprenger (ex-Covid19 task force employee of the Austrian government) last Monday, the last paragraph affected me. Because it describes not only the state in our federal government, but also part of our culture.
Extract from the open letter: Staging and glossing over like yesterday's press conference doesn't help anyone. A lot went well in Austria, we can be proud of that. However, a lot is bad, some even went catastrophically bad. We should do better next time. Only a balanced presentation helps us to learn together and to improve. Without data, no scientific analysis can take place and no overall balance can be drawn. Every message control harms our society.
Admitting mistakes, analyzing them and learning from them is in short supply in our culture. The consequence is that we cannot develop further without a healthy culture of error. Because people learn from trial and error. Admitting mistakes is not a sign of weakness, but of strength and greatness. Get up again, learn from it and do better.
Have you heard such statements before?
- Just don't admit mistakes. People don't like that at all.
- Keep pretending we know what we're doing. Otherwise we will lose face.
- When that blows up, people will never forgive us. We'll keep them busy with other things. Someone else should take care of it.
- As long as we don't have any answers, we leave them in the belief that everything is fine.
I've heard similar statements too often. We'd rather twist the truth, cover up our failure, or look for a scapegoat. Unimportant things are often exaggerated to distract from the essentials.
There are a number of cognitive biases that explain these phenomena. "Anchor heuristics, MUM-effect, persistence in beliefs, confirmation errors, contrast effect, moral licensing, truth effect, ..."
How can we become more aware of these cognitive distortions and thus make more objective decisions and develop further? Or is that not our goal? Oops. I've never questioned that. If people do not want to develop further, a culture of error is not necessary. Status quo bias - everything should stay as it is. Don't even want to look at it. That explains a lot.
There are wonderful examples that show us that without trial & error our humanity would be completely different today. In our blog from January, Ezgi explains that we discovered penicillin through an error. Or the classic Edison: How many failed attempts did it take before we no longer had to bring light into our home with candles and torches? Or a very recent example from aviation. The black box records every conversation, every step and every action on the plane and there are also clear rules in the cockpit that do not allow fear of hierarchy, group pressure or other distortions. Errors are deliberately sought in order to continuously improve them. Not the people are cornered and denounced, but the processes are adapted and improved. With each failure, new learning was added and development continued. It is not for nothing that flying has become the safest form of travel.
It looks quite different in our hospitals, in politics and in our school system. The gods in white, the Chancellor and the Professor. Great power distance and no questioning allowed. Too bad, because it is precisely these areas that serve society. Wouldn't it be desirable for us to develop further in these areas instead of striving for a status quo?
I think it's time to evolve. Instead of being afraid of failure, it is time to adapt and improve our processes and structures so that errors are minimized and better things happen. Let's start with ourselves, with our families, in small and large companies - and develop a healthy error culture.
This is exactly what our “Fail - Share - Grow” program is about. A heart project that I launched a year ago. Who has had enough face loss and status quo bias? Then you are right with us. Let's get started. Now is the right time!