Tim Harford has been called “Britain’s Malcolm Gladwell.” He is the well-known “Undercover Economist” for the Financial Times. His new book is called "ADAPT: Why Success Always Starts with Failure."
Tim Harford: I think many people looking at the experience of the US Army in Iraq will conclude, “well, it was a big mistake.” There were a lot of mistakes made, but for me what I was really interested in is not whether mistakes were made because they clearly were, but how quickly the mistakes got corrected because we make mistakes all the time, but can we fix them? And Donald Rumsfeld struck me as a leader who was particularly incapable of fixing his own mistakes. He didn’t want the problems that the US Army was facing even to be discussed, not to be called by their right name. There is a famous press conference just after Thanksgiving 2005 in which Rumsfeld says, “I don’t think these guys even deserve the name of insurgents.” So you’ve got a problem. You’ve got an insurgency and it’s like something out of George Orwell. Donald Rumsfeld doesn’t even want the problem to be called by its proper name.
When he received feedback from his generals they were ignored. They were brushed away. They were sidelined. This was an absolute pathological refusal to listen to feedback, and that’s important because all of us find it hard to listen to feedback. It’s particularly true of people at the top of big organizations because people have a power relationship with them and that’s fine if you never make mistakes, but I've never met anybody who doesn’t make mistakes, and so this error correction really important.
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