It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you place the blame

Posted on January 28, 2012


Text by Alastair Dryburgh*

The blame game is a commonplace but there are three big reasons why blaming anyone- yourself or someone else – is thoroughly pernicious in organisations. Two of them, the fact that blame creates risk aversion and wastes time, are quite well known.They are responsible for the fact that so many of us have become so clever at playing the game, using cunning and skill to hedge our bets and cover our tracks.

The third problem with blame is the really dangerous one. It doesn’t, like the first two, present us with a series of obstacle we need to negotiate, but fundamentally distorts our belief system to stop us from seeing clearly and acting rationally.

In a fascinating study of the investment management industry (Minding the Markets), psychoanalyst Dabid Tuckett found that the commonest reason given by investment managers for losing money was some variant of “my fault I got it wrong”. Given the uncertainties of the market, and that these were all managers at the top of their game, this seems unlikely. Tuckett  suggests that the real reason they blamed themselves was because, however unpleasant, it was better than the alternative view, that markets are random and even excellent managers can produce poor results.

This is the driving force behind the blame game – it reinforces the dangerous delusion that if we just try hard enough, work long enough, we can control everything that happens to us. If, for instance, we blame the salesman every time  a prospect drops out of the sales funnel, we prevent ourselves from looking at the effectiveness of our sales process or understanding the realistic number of prospect we need to make one sale.

Rejecting blame means accepting that we can’t control everything. This idea, uncomfortable as it is, does have the merit of being true. Accepting it moves us closer to reality and also greater effectiveness. Surely that’s got to be with a try?

*Author of the book Everything You Know About Business is Wrong. More at