TITLE: Accepting the Blame AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: November 29, 2004 4:46 PM DESC: Sometimes, accepting the blame too easily keeps everyone's eyes focused on the very thing you're trying to avoid: blame. ----- BODY: On Saturday, Jason Yip started a conversation about the danger of accepting blame reflexively. He fears that accepting the blame preemptively "reinforc[es] the mistaken belief that having someone take blame is somehow important." Fixing the problem is what matters. This is, of course, true. As Jerry Weinberg says in The Secrets of Consulting:
The chances of solving a problem decline the closer you get to finding out who was the cause of the problem.
(You may recall that some of my earliest blog entries here and here referred to this gem of a book.) When people focus on whose fault it is, they tend to become defensive, to guard their egos, even at the expense of fixing the problem. This is a very human response, and one that is hard to control intellectually. The result is both that the problem remains and its systematic cause remains, pretty much guaranteeing more problems in the future. If we can depersonalize the problem, focusing on what is wrong and how we can fix it, then there is hope of both solving the problem and learning how not to cause similar problems in the future. I think Jason is right on that people can use "It's my fault" as a way to avoid discussion and thus be as much of an obstacle to growth and improvement as focusing on placing blame. And someone who *always* says this is either trying to avoid confrontation or making way too many mistakes. :-) But as one commenter posted on his site, saying "I made a mistake. Let's fix it, and let's find a way to avoid such problems in the future" is a welcome behavour, one that can help individuals and teams grow. The real problem is saying "I made a mistake." when you didn't make a mistake or don't want to discuss what you did. I have been fortunate never to have worked at a place where people played The Blame Game, at least not too destructively. Walking on eggshells all day is no way to live one's life, and not the sort of environment in which a person can learn. These days, I don't have much trouble in professional settings acknowledging my mistakes, though I probably wasn't always as easy-going. I give a lot of credit for my growth in this regard to having papers I've written workshopped at PLoP conferences. At PLoP, I learned how better to separate my self from my product. The practices of writers workshops aim to create a safe environment, where authors can learn about how well their papers work. As much as the practices of the patterns community help, it probably takes going through the workshop process a few times to wear away the protective shell that most of use use to protect ourselves from criticism. Being with the right sort of people helps. All that said, I had to chuckle at It's Chet's Fault, a fun little community practice of the famed C3 project that gave rise to XP as a phenomenon. On a team of folks working together to get better, I think that this sort of levity can help people remember to keep their eyes on what really matters. On the other hand, lots of things can work with a team of folks striving to get better. Being with the right sort of people helps. -----