It’s always your fault

The easiest thing in the world is to blame others when things go wrong. Analyzing every misstep, pointing out every flaw. There’s value to such analysis, but it’s incomplete. To round the circle, you have to do the harder work: Figure out how this is actually your fault.

This is obviously most pertinent if you’re responsible for others. “The buck stops here” has been a popular phrase for half a century because its a concept that needs reminding. It’s too easy otherwise for those at the top to lay blame upon those at the bottom. (Just look at the current Wells Fargo fraud!).

But it’s not just bosses who need a lesson in introspection. Everyone could do well to take one. If you’re part of a team or a process and something went wrong, of course it’s also your fault. You could have looked harder. You could have raised your doubts. You could have double checked.

There’s a system in place that caused this to happen, and you’re part of that system. Shit never happens in a vacuum. The vast majority of it is a predictable consequence of the way things are. Even if it was “just somebody’s fault”, others put or kept that person there.

The goal is to change the system, and to change the system, you have to change its parts. Have the courage to start with yourself. Absorb as much blame and responsibility you can for what happened, and hopefully some of that introspection will rub off on the other parts of the system. But even if it doesn’t, you’ve still done your bit to improve matters.

It’s your fault. Say it.

We’ve made many mistakes at Basecamp. Technical mistakes, people mistakes, product mistakes. I’ve always learnt the most from those when I assume I had the power to fix the system. Even if I didn’t know of it (I clearly should have!), even if I didn’t foresee it (I clearly could have!). Everything is at least partly my fault, a lot of it is probably mostly my fault, and some of it is obviously just my fault. I’d like to think that accepting all this is part reason why we’re still here.

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