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Research shows how much we love a blamestorm


If you see one person scapegoating someone else - even without reason - the chances are you will do so too.

The research, by USC Marshall School of Business and Stanford University, show that the work blamestorm after something goes wrong is something that quickly catches on.   On a more sinister note I think, it demonstrates how marginalisation and finger pointing at certain groups (for example immigrants) spreads and finds a willing audience.

According to Science Daily, two academics conducted four different experiements, “and found that publicly blaming others dramatically increases the likelihood that the practice will become viral.”

In one example, participants read about California Governor Schwarzenegger blaming special interest groups for the failure of a special election that cost $250.   The ones who did so were more likely to blame others for their own unrelated short-comings.   In other words an aura of negativity spreads, even if it's about something completely different.

The reason?  “It triggers the perception that one's self-image is under assault and must be protected.”   So, “not me, guv!”

Looking at the workplace, one of the academics Nathaneal J Fast, says that a blame culture creates a ‘culture of fear‘ and advises companies to embrace failures and mistakes as something to move on from, like Intuit, which has a ‘When learning hurts' session.

Also touch-feely 'self affirmation' seems to help.   In one of the experiments, people who affirmed their 'self-worth', were less likely to point fingers.

That makes a lot of sense really.  Foster a positive environment in your organisation and it will spread, or there's a constant tendency to shift responsibility, that will take hold too and have unintended, wider consequences when it comes to productivity, the day to day atmosphere and so on.

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  • MattMooreWrites's picture
    Nov 23 Posted 7 years ago MattMoore

    The blame game is part of a culture emphasizing results over process, similar to the "social proof" idea of looking to how others react to determine how you should react.  For example, look up at the sky and wait to see how long it is before everyone around you is looking up.  Same with blame—if blame starts getting tossed around, you toss blame.  Like bullying, we look to blame someone else before we get blamed.

    But while bad results get blame, rarely do we look at how they came about.  We can measure results: page impressions, followers on Twitter, number of sales, turn-around time.  Process is harder to measure and may even be seen as counter-productive.  Other words for process are "bureaucracy" and "paperwork"--hardly terms we think of positively.

    When it comes to process, "do-ers" are admired for getting things done (sometimes haphazardly and inefficiently) while "thinkers" are seen as sitting in their office, adding nothing, delaying action.

    This needs to change.  A properly conceived process should produce positive results.  If so, that process can be replicated over time, (hopefully) regardless of who is doing it.  If not, it can be reviewed to find what went wrong.  But more often than not a bad result stems from a lack of process rather than a bad process.  On the other hand, a "do-er" is a force-of-one that, while valuable, cannot be replicated or taught.

    Instead of laying blame for a result, let's look at how it came about.  A failure of process is a systematic failure.  If one wants to assign blame, there will be plenty to go around, including to the blamer.

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