On Mistakes and Errors

There was an interesting quote I read today in Michael Shermer’s Skeptic column in Scientific American this month.

This administration intends to be candid about its errors. For a wise man once said, “An error does not become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.” We intend to accept full responsibility for our errors… We’re not going to have any search for scapegoats… the final responsibilities of any failure are mine, and mine alone.

This was from a speech that President John F. Kennedy gave after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. It speaks to a problem that is very common in any organization, the perpetuation of bad practices because of the perceived value of what has already been invested. As it is also know, sunk costs.

We all have a tendency to want to justify the bad decisions we make and humans have a great capacity for rationalization. This also makes me think of a book I read a while back called, The Logic of Failure, Recognizing and Avoiding Error in Complex Situations. The book has many examples of things that seems like sensible actions that lead to sometimes catastrophic problems. For those of you interested in this sort of thing you can find the book here.


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