Error culture - a clarification

Making mistakes is part of a new culture of error, they are an important step to improve in the agile world. Is that really the case?

What is an error?


An error is a deviation (actual value) from a state (target value) that has been defined as correct in advance. The process of organising, however, turns the possibility of voluntarily choosing either alternative A or alternative B into an “only-A!”. Organising is therefore the destruction of alternatives. There are good reasons for this: Sometimes it is about avoiding dangers, sometimes about making processes more efficient, sometimes about simplifying steps. Those who act according to alternative B then make a mistake. …

So the individual has to make an appropriate decision in a concrete situation (this is called responsibility), but this is narrowed down to a duty of care by too tight an organisation. It is then no longer a question of doing the right things in the situation. It is only about doing the right things – in order to be able to justify oneself afterwards. Before any action is taken, the guideline, the precedent, the manual is always asked for. That is the price that has to be paid for the alternative destruction.” It remains the case that if the rules are clear, they must be adhered to and every effort must be made to avoid mistakes, but if they do happen, they must be analysed.

When do we speak of an experiment?

If an attempt to do something new fails, or if the desired result is not achieved, one should not speak of a mistake, but of an experiment. “In experiments, the result is always open. You can’t know in advance whether it will work or not. There has been no decision beforehand between the actual and the target value, because neither one nor the other is known. You only have a vague idea of something that could work. But what and how exactly, you can’t know by definition.” An experiment that fails is not a failure. It just didn’t produce the desired result.

Everything innovative is also bound to failure, to failure – but not to failure. It may take a few failures to be truly successful in the end. If agile transitions don’t work right away, management is quick to claim it was a mistake, I say no, because in order to survive in the market, innovation and speed are required. There is no right or wrong here, but to be at the forefront, it is not enough to avoid mistakes, you also have to risk something, it would be a mistake not to try it.


Sources: Sprengers Spitzen: The myth of the error culture – WirtschaftsWoche 02 July 2017