What Businesses Can Learn From Katrina: Stop Looking Backwards

Have you ever been in a situation at work where something major went wrong? Maybe you lost a key customer, botched a new product launch, or found a bug in your hardware/software just before it was supposed to ship. What happens? The blame game starts. Whose fault is it? How can we stop it from happening again?

That is what I see happening with Katrina. Accusations. This person and that group and the Mayor, Governor, President, National Guard, FEMA, Army Corps of Engineers, etc. made a bunch of mistakes. And we are dedicated to stringing those people up and making them pay. It's stupid. It's not really about making things better for future disasters, it's about using the opportunity to take a shot at someone you didn't like anyway.

There is real work to do – lots of it, so why focus on the past right now? Let's go back to the company example. Say you are supposed to ship a piece of hardware in two days and it fails a major test. Is the best use of your time to convene meetings and discuss changes in the design process to catch errors like this the next time? No. Your best bet is to fix the damn problem. That is where your brainpower should go.

But we play the blame game instead because it's easier, and because ultimately we care more about looking good than being good. In the wake of Katrina, I just wonder how much effort is focused on blame and criticism that could be directed at cleaning up and moving forward.

The past is important. You can learn from it and improve your future performance. But it's never good to start pointing fingers right after the problem hits. Solve it. Fix it. Get it done. Then step back and take a breath and figure out what you can learn from it. Looking backwards isn't a good way to make progress. And besides, after awhile you get a sore neck.

Word of Blog has some good Katrina relief ads, for those of you that are interested.