27th Sep 2011

A Series of Minor Incidents

This is imageSoure in newsroom in the CMS

In Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell writes that “Plane crashes are much more likely to be the results of minor difficulties and seemingly trivial malfunctions”. He lists a litany of factors such as bad weather, the plane running late, pilot fatigue, and pilots who have never flown together so are not comfortable with one another. On top of this he adds “The typical accident involves seven human errors”.

An accumulation of minor human errors can lead to failure. This illustrates the genuine importance of aspects of experience and behaviour (details) which are routinely overlooked – and which are most likely to be overlooked when we have ‘bigger things’ to worry about.

But a ‘bigger thing’ is always the product of a collection of smaller things. This is as true in the case of success as it is in the case of failure. Anxiety and arrogance, two emotional states which on the face of it have nothing in common, are alike in that either one can cause us to mishandle, or miss altogether, any number of small details which seem irrelevant until their cumulative effect becomes obvious.

Imagine two executives, let’s call them Tim and Paul, who are simultaneously promoted within their respected organisations to the role of senior director. This kind of transition requires the appointee to expand the remit of their operational focus from a close-up to a wide angle overview. So, years of experience of gaining credibility and refining expertise in a specific area are rewarded.

Tim and Paul gain access to a much wider sphere of influence and a much broader range of concerns. Their success in their previous roles has paid off,  but now they must adjust their working method to a new set of strategic priorities. From this point on their past success may become as much of a hindrance as a help to them in meeting the challenges they face. Success and promotion can lead to feelings of being the ‘special one’, or equally to feelings of being the ‘inferior one’.

Tim is exuberant. He approaches his new position with confidence, assurance and arrogance. And, he allows himself to overlook details. He fails to form strong relationships with his new team, and thus fails to communicate effectively.

Paul on the other hand, is filled with anxiety and misgivings. He feels completely out of his depth, which hinders his ability to make decisions confidently and efficiently.

It is imperative to take an over-arching view of your new role, within the context of your organisation and the market as a whole. The broader perspective enables understanding of the minor elements as well as the major elements, which are contributors to success. An accumulation of small mistakes can easily and quietly lead to failure. However, the ability to accept your mistakes and move on, coupled with the ability to accept the anxiety you feel and move on, is crucial to success.

Hilda Goold

As Featured On EzineArticles

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