Making the Same Mistakes, Repetitively

When an individual makes the same mistakes repetitively, you might ask why they do so, why they don’t learn (and of course; ‘Why don’t they improve?’), and so on. When the same thing happens within a professional organisation, we need to ask why the business doesn’t learn, and why the business allows the individual to continue on that path. I think I have a couple of suggestions why this might be.

Don’t Know
One of the best (and worst) reasons the same mistakes might be made is simply because people don’t know they are being made! This is a rather difficult one to judge because who knows what and when can vary dramatically by situation (for example, a window cleaner on a gantry on a tenth floor might notice a loose fitting – but will they recall that by the time the gantry has lifted them back to the roof?)

In IT / Software environments, there is often an error log, but again, how people treat this varies greatly and often it is treated as a place where ‘no-one looks there’ or perhaps ‘there be dragons’. I totally understand that when I look at a Windows Error / Event Logs; which I generally do not understand, and things are mentioned (and I don’t even know what they are) and so the whole thing can be a worrying experience (because I am reminded how little I know)!

Don’t Care
Once again, context and attitude play a massive part here, and I think it is true to say that some people don’t care about stuff you or I care about. And context plays a part too, because of course, everyone would accept that there are priorities and needs that outweigh ‘that thing’. A firefighter on a long ladder might spot a loose fitting on a window – and not care about it at all because he is fighting a fire on the other side of the window. Or he may care, but in an unusual way; like perhaps that the loose fitting offers an opportunity to get into the building… but whichever way, once the window cleaner and the firefighter have come down from the building, you can imagine that there would still be a loose fitting!

Won’t Say
Many environments do not encourage or reward people for bringing problems to the attention of others. Ok – Ok – perhaps you work for an organisation where there aren’t any problems, only ‘opportunities’. Anyway, disregarding that spin, even if you are actively encouraged to report issues, it still generally means more work of one sort or another… perhaps you have to fill out a form, or complete a ticket on a work logging system. That’s not really encouragement!

I have worked in environments where even known errors (such as you may find reported in an error log) were not really to be talked about (I presume because in some way the business owners considered them to be implying some sort of liability), and also ones where people including myself won’t say. I mean, if I see a problem, and report it to someone who doesn’t care, then I quickly learn not to report it!

No Time
Of course, on many occasions people will claim that they don’t have time. They have something else to do, or something else has higher priority.

Oh Look, The GoodYear Blimp!
Some people prefer to offer a misdirection when faced with a problem. Rather than address it, they misdirect others to look at something else (what problem?) – though they may ultimately use some rationale like priority or business-need or whatever, they still prefer to look at something else.

But one quite worrying pattern I have seen with some people is to offer environmental changes in response to issues (and sometimes process change)… when there is a far more direct and obvious solution! In a recent example at my current employer, rather than concentrate on errors in the error log that are not being investigated due to lack of time or lack of will or knowledge, they are redeveloping the whole logging system in the hope that the new logging system will provide easy analysis and answers to what the problems are. I maintain, in contrast, that simply sitting down, looking at the log, and starting to investigate a message I see repetitively would be a good place to start! I have also often seen process changes as the result of coding problems (‘we must have another code-review’ mentality) when maybe the awkward truth is that you need to sit someone down and carefully explain to them what they have done wrong, and how they need to develop themselves.

The Results
The Result of all this, I feel, is a general erosion of trust in a system or environment, and certainly wasted time and effort when repetitive issues are investigated (but somehow the actual fixes never seem to get worked on). It can be a disheartening place to be.

For myself, I am guilty of all the above, at one point or another. It’s tough not to be. But I am also trying to be better and thorough at documenting problems that I do see, because I know they can’t be fixed ever if no-one knows about them.

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