Book Review: Mistakes were made …

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Tavris, Carol & Elliot Aronson. Mistakes were made (but not by me) : why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts. Harcourt, 2007.

Tavris and Aronson’s book offers the following story told by organizational consultants Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus: “A promising junior executive of IBM was involved in a risky venture for the company and managed to lose over $10 million in the gamble. It was a disaster. When Watson [Tom Watson, Sr.–IBM’s founder] called the nervous executive into his office, the young man blurted out, ‘I guess you want my resignation?’ Watson said, ‘You can’t be serious. We’ve just spent $10 million educating you!'” A $10 million dollar mistake is hard to hide, but why are most people reluctant to own up to any mistakes, even of the non-$10 million dollar variety?

Not only does no one like to admit mistakes, when confronted with those mistakes, most of us will go to great lengths to justify them rather than admit error. This book illuminates the ways self justification hinders our organizations, legal system, scientific research, and personal relationships. Full of pertinent examples from the interrogation of innocent suspects to the unreliable nature of memories, the book explains how the stress of cognitive dissonance and personal bias impairs our judgment in insidious ways. Tavris and Aronson make their case using an engaging combination of anecdotes and research studies. This book is well-written and thought-provoking.

© Reviewer: Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business. All rights reserved.


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