It’s all in the Definition … Isn’t It?

Recently I was booked to give one of our regularly sought after presentations on business risk and failure which incorporates the potentially dire financial circumstances that can arise from either consistent small error making habits, or in the alternate the impact of one great whopper!

What arose out of that presentation was the observation of how today there exist differing ways that people seem to expect that such situations should be dealt with.  For those of us in the insolvency arena it appears fairly clear that the instantaneous massive financial penalty is the desired solution of regulators with an intent to ensure that we are all (and remain) perfect.

One other recent event that quickly came to the fore was the problem that occurred in the final stages of the Academy Awards ceremony and the fall out that has come from there.  Firstly the decision made by the Firm in question to accept and own the error from the start was certainly commendable, but in reality there was little else they could do.  They either erred directly, or in the alternate, a component in their process failed and the system that they had in place was void of appropriate checks and balances to have firstly detected it.  Any contrary stance would have been as ludicrous as Saddam Hussain’s Minister of Information saying the Americans were not coming as those watching could see the American tanks arriving in the background over his left shoulder.

Flowing on from that though is the much, and apparently increasingly, quoted reminder that we are all human, and that humans make mistakes.  Now that is a very true statement, it is plausible and it is without doubt well-meaning; but where is that magical line?  What is the tolerable error and what’s not?  What is acceptably human and what is professionally (or humanly) incompetent or, in the alternate, inept?

If the brain surgeon makes an error, or the lawyer at a vital point in a case, or the pilot of the passenger airliner, or the captain of a huge cruise ship or any of the many other situations that can come readily to mind where we would not be very happy about the situation falling to pieces on anyone of us.  Are these all just human mistakes.

Increasingly we are seeing machines being developed to take over functions and roles “so as to remove the potential for human error,” which in boring repetitive tasks is great, but are we now saying in many other situations that we are simply not willing to enforce a degree of discipline so as to ensure that the job really does get done properly.  Are we saying that the underlying acceptance now should always be that near enough is good enough?  If that is the case then the predictions that unemployment will overnight rocket from 6 percent to 60 percent will be driven to fact.  The problem will then become what all those unemployed will live off.

In my early professional days, and in more than one role that I was involved in, steps were taken to ensure that I knew what I had to do, had and maintained an appropriate focus on what I was doing (including rest) and was adequately supervised to ensure that I did not falter.   In the award situation the apparent pre-occupation with a mobile phone camera and the surroundings seem to take a greater priority.  Was this acceptance based on the fact that the opportunity was more important, or was it because we are now willing to accept a lesser standard of performance simply because ‘that’s the way that generation is’?  One thing is for sure, there will be hell to pay if it is ever proven that MH 370 disappeared because the pilot was wandering around snapping pictures!

I have seen some incredible ability amongst the younger generations and some extraordinary demonstrations of patience, dedication and discipline but this tends to be the few, or only for bursts. However for the many, these are not characteristics demonstrated whilst they are just doing routine things like living or working.

In a discussion about the publishing of a news item a request had apparently been made to ensure that it was correct before publishing, the reaction was that it’s more about getting the news out than it is about being proper English.  It was almost launched with the key individual’s name misspelt.

So when is an error fatal?  At least at the moment it’s not fatal, if you can convince everyone around you that you should not be held responsible, regardless of the ramifications of the error.  Potentially good if you have a strong media presence, team and control, but quite potentially fatal otherwise for the majority of businesses.

Worth thinking about though.