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Good article, I always find it interesting when joining an organization to see how long it is before someone blames someone else rather than accept responsibility themselves. It is very embedded in the culture of the organization.

James Dodson

Reality TV often provides excellent examples of the blame game in action. More often than not when the group or partnership fails to win or complete a task in the allotted amount of time individuals immediately start faulting others. As behavioral defense mechanisms take over arguing ensues and the group usually breaks down for a period until people come terms with the incident. Apologies are issued and usually grudges between players often carry over to the next task. I would assume people enjoy watching conflict play out and would like to believe that we all “cringe,” when we see a blamer behaving badly; but after witnessing such behavior why do we often engage in the very same behavior in our social relationships. Nobody likes failing. It’s a horrible feeling to fail. Know this; why do we often attack others when they fail.

David Reuter

Bob, Great post. As a student it is reassuring when the experimental data supports what we learn in class. This data reinforces the fact that corporate culture will drive behavior and if your corporate culture includes the blame game don't be surprised by the behavior that you create.


Great post, Bob. Taking it in an entirely different direction, it prompted some further thoughts on academic journals and their anachronistic (but persistent!) business model:

Anne Perschel

Great Post. Thanks. Useful to the design of an upcoming webinar on "dealing with toxic personalities at work." Very appreciative that your post is applicable research from psychology to human dynamics in business, organizations, and politics. We need more in this arena. Leadership is all about psychology. Keep it up, please.

Anne Perschel aka@bizshrink


"Blame" in the strict psychological sense is rarely, if ever, productive. But it is so easy to fall into. ("Blame" is attributing the target as the proximate cause of a harm - I was injured & you caused it.)

Kelly Shaver did work years ago on this - even where blame is the accurate attribution, it's not healthy to ruminate on this.

The flip side is that it's healthy to attribute success to effort & unhealthy to attribute success (espec. other people's success) to luck or powerful others.

BUT... contagion can also be GOOD! Look at very recent work by Melissa Cardon on another organizational contagion... Passion! Entrepreneurial passion really can be extraordinarily contagious - but it takes the right skills, etc. (Might it even be a *key* capability for entrepreneurs?)

Bob, thanks again for the lead to JExSocPsych!

Carol Murchie

I just shared lunch with a longtime friend yesterday and had occasion to pull out Ben and Roz Zander's book, "The Art of Possibility" (for musicians, a mistake played is an opportunity to explore what happened and learn a lesson from it), and a 1989 email from when I worked at a certain small company was stuck among the pages. The memo was from the owner/CEO, addressed to everybody in the company, from the top executives to the shipping room, and to ask them all to take part in the 1990 budgeting process. At the conclusion of the memo it read:

"Be realistic rather than cautious. We will make a significant separate fund for the unexpected. Please enjoy the process of budgeting. Look upon it as a learning experience. Make commitments. In this company people are rarely if ever penalized for making mistakes. Not being fully engaged exact its own penalty."

It was a rarified culture for a period of time in this company; unfortunately, it deteriorated as new people from old corporate cultures of "I need to look good and the only way I can do that is to make you look bad" came aboard. Mistakes or percieved mistakes were the opportunities to blame and maim someone who threatened you.

I got the opportunity to meet Ben Zander at a party he held at his house and I told him one of my favorite quotes I'd found was from Samuel Beckett:

"No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."

Ben loved it.

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