Normal Accidents LO12086

Mariann Jelinek (
Mon, 20 Jan 1997 10:02:08 -0500

Replying to LO12058 --

Huzzah! for Phil Capper's commentary on Normal Accidents!

The irreducible error fraction has been reduced substantially - to
miniscule proportions - in companies like Motorola, where, in one
instance, literally millions of transactions in shipping were carried out
without error. These efforts were part of a real quality push that had
been systematically built into corporate culture over a period of years,
and were driven by workers who wished to offer the contribution of THEIR
error-work to the efforts of others (that is, it wasn't "demanded" by
The complexity of building such a cultural system is enormous,
which is one reason why so few companies undertake it (or even understand
it), let alone accomplish it. Yet the benefits, to the company, its
employees, its stockholders and clients, are enormous, and not just
financial. The consummate expertise of those who operate without error is
both apparent to them, allowing them to feel good about themselves, and
apparent to management, which values them the more. Such expertise
positions workers and the company to manage change (they really know their
stuff, so they can sensibly contribute to change procedures): there's less
"panic mode," less sense that any change will spell disaster. Then too,
since workers have already demonstrated their expertise, willingness and
achievement, the emotional load is lessened all around - and cognitive
psychology tells us that being terrified isn't a good base for change,
anyhow: it tends to lead to premature closure, narrowing of perspective,
and force-fitting of perception into the expected boxes.

Thanks, Joe and Phil, for instigating some interesting thoughts!


Mariann Jelinek, Ph.D.
Richard C. Kraemer Professor of
Business Administration
Graduate School of Business | The only real, enduring strategic advantage
College of Williiam and Mary |comes from changing the game.
P.O. Box 8795
Williamsburg, VA 23185-8795

(804) 221-2882 FAX: (804) 229-6135


Mariann Jelinek <>

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