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Compounded Errors
A Slippery Slope
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Twitter Highlights
I send 15-20 tweets per week with links to useful links and research. Here are a few of my latest, including links:

Given the news, last November's article about How Penn State Fumbled is still timely -

"If you sell a product or service, you're just a vendor. But if you sell a vision or experience, you can build a brand." (Simon Sinek)

"People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it." (Simon Sinek, "Start With Why")

On the decline of craftsmanship and manufacturing - A Nation That's Losing Its Toolbox

"People without a sense of values can make a great deal of money, but they will have an ache in their hearts." (Jack Ma, Alibaba)

Libor demystified -

Good advice: How Leaders Become Self-Aware - @HarvardBiz For tools to build self-awareness:

When Bad Theories Happen to Good Scientists (or leaders) -
via @WSJ Beware of confirmation bias!

I wonder what their engagement survey results were? - Maruti Manager Died in Fire After Limbs Broken - via @WSJ

Blankfein: Libor Scandal Undermines Integrity Of The System
via @HuffPostBiz  A vampire squid calling an octopus clingy?

Penn State, Duke and integrity via @WSJ  What PSU did right and where Duke went wrong

Bulbrite's CEO Choi - "It's Not About Me. It's About Our Values."  'Good example of values-based leadership and culture

Recommended book for any with talent management responsibility: Dancing With The Talent Stars -

"No program or person, however popular or successful, can be allowed to derail an institution's soul." Mike Slive, SE Conf. Commissioner

L.A. takes "Slumlord US Bancorp to court -   Logical consequences of not taking stewardship seriously.

Penn State Of Confusion via @HufPostImpact When integrity meets your institution, which will win - or can both?

Penn State pledge more oversight 'Better to invest in ethical cultures than more compliance and oversight.

Paterno and Penn State's reality distortion field
via @WSJ

Is Storytelling the Secret Weapon of the 2012 Race? via HuffPostPol More on leaders and stories:

Missing: transparency, courage and accountability. CNN captured it: "Money was a drug, and PSU needed a fix.

Ethics and Risk Management: Building A Culture Of Integrity @CFAInstitute

"To succeed in life, you need three things: a wishbone, a backbone and a funny bone." (Reba McEntire)

Many Wall Street executives say wrongdoing is necessary -
See my comment.

Reich's lucid description of the Libor shenanigans make it clear why we no longer trust big banks nor should we: via @HuffPostUK See my comment.

'Want to be creative? A drink might help - See my comment.

Strategy or Execution: Which is More Important? via @stratandbiz Of course the answer is "both!"

Barclay's - a classic and expensive case of mission drift: When Traders Trump Quakers -

Interesting book explains the moral divide between conservatives and liberals - The Righteous Mind by Haidt

Fascinating profile of The Made-in-China CEO (and 1 way to encourage "Life Attitude of an Earth Citizen") via @reuters via @VanityFair

Higgs Boson and the Physics of Leadership - via @CBSNews
If you missed it, below is a copy of my last blog:Compounded Errors. Since some may not have seen June's article, A Slippery Slope, its introduction follows; you can access the entire article by clicking the link at the end. Be sure to enter the "Who Said This?" contest at the bottom of this newsletter to win an autographed copy of Navigating Integrity - Transforming Business As Usual Into Business At Its Best.
Compounded Errors

Once again this season, our sloop LOON is serving up life and leadership lessons, and in unexpected ways. The first this year began when a charterer reported a small fresh water leak at the base of LOON's toilet - by itself not serious as long as the head's seacocks were closed, one of which draws in Lake Superior water for flushing. The charterer assured me that he had closed the seacocks, so I put the small leak on a list of items to attend to the next weekend. After asking a friend at LOON's dock to check on her, he called to inform me that she was taking on water - at that point several inches over the cabin floor. As it turns out the head seacocks were open, which had allowed lake water to seep in over several days. Compounding the problem, LOON's electric bilge pump never kicked in; the float switch for triggering it had apparently been disconnected for years.


Any one of those factors alone would not have caused a serious problem; all at once they could have swamped LOON. I thought of other well-known compounded error tragedies, including the Titanic. In that case, too much speed and inattention were compounded by an insufficient number of lifeboats, poorly handled lifeboat deployment, the ship designer's and captain's hubris, and assumptions that the Titanic was actually "unsinkable." Compounded errors also caused the second worst U.S. air disaster in history in 2001. The NTSB concluded that pilot error, compounded by poor design and inadequate training, caused the jumbo jet's tail section of American Airlines flight 587 to break off, killing all 260 passengers on board and five on the ground.


Compounded errors also contribute to leadership and organizational failures. It was bad enough that a Penn State University football coach sexually assaulted underage boys in its own athletic facilities; troubles mushroomed when the behavior was concealed from authorities for fear of tarnishing its football reputation and jeopardizing funding. In the case of our great recession and 2008's economic meltdown; speculative investments by banks, compounded by a significant decline in home values, highly leveraged homeowners, credit restrictions and yes, hubris, contributed to the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. Missed market signals, flawed design, service outages and missed deadlines were among the multiple failures contributing to RIM's demise. A combination of equipment failure, rushing and not following safety protocols led to BP's Gulf oil spill, the largest in history.


Here are some ways that we can limit compounded errors and their damage:

  • Clarify priorities and expectations. Whether around core values, safety protocols on an oil rig or explicit instructions for closing seacocks, make sure that everyone understands what to do and how to do it.
  • Trust, but verify. Especially when stakes are high, verify proper execution.  A mountain rescuer once shared how if he hadn't checked a safety line that a crew member said was secure, he would have fallen to his death.
  • Challenge assumptions - your and others'. Is this ship really unsinkable?  Are we really too big to fail?  What if our assumptions about market and technology direction or consumer preferences are wrong?
  • Pay attention. In the Coast Guard Auxiliary we called it "situational awareness;" what is happening around me, and how might that affect our mission? Have conditions changed, and do I need to make any adjustments?
  • Check your work and thinking - or better yet ask someone else. I've learned that it's good practice to have another double check my lat and long calculations before entering them into GPS; 'better to swallow a little pride than end up on the rocks!
  • As Will Rogers said, "When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging!" Whether investing good money after bad, doubling down to recoup losses, staying in a bad relationship or telling another lie to cover prior mistakes, we need to know when to cut our losses. It's easier said than done, but look at the better outcomes for those who "come clean" early vs. late (David Letterman vs. John Edwards, for example.)
  • Know yourself and your limitations. I use a survey in my work (Hogan Development Survey) that reflects potential career derailers, one of which is "boldness ' - a propensity for over-confidence and excessive risk-taking.  Knowing that in advance will likely help us at least question whether excessive boldness may contribute to failure.

LOON is ship-shape again, and as usual I am wiser for the experience. I've had a chance to think about how compounded errors contribute to leadership and organizational failures, how to recognize them earlier and ways to limit them.


What has your experience with compounded errors been? What can you add to the list of ways to avoid them or limit their damage?


Might you or your organization be in any danger of succumbing to compounded errors now? How can you reverse direction or limit the damage?



"No matter how far you've gone down the wrong road, turn back."

 (Turkish Proverb)



For want of a nail the shoe was lost.

For want of a shoe the horse was lost.

For want of a horse the rider was lost.

For want of a rider the message was lost.

For want of a message the battle was lost.

For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.

And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

A Slippery Slope

I had the pleasure of lunch recently with the former VP of Sales for a $16 million technology company, published author and speaker. Mark Mark Faris head Faris freely shares another distinguishing credential: he is a convicted felon for mail / wire fraud and money laundering who did eleven months of hard time away from home and family.  He has one more year of supervised release by the U.S. Probation Office and is still paying monthly restitution.  Mark's experience was clearly a significant defining moment of his life and career; his passionate purpose today is transforming individuals and organizations to be more honest, accountable and ethical by communicating the importance of morals, principles, and values.  I was anxious to talk with him about his journey and perspective on business ethics.


Here are some take-aways from my conversation with Mark:

  • Too many of us grow up and go to work with a sense of entitlement: entitlement to a big job, big house, big cars and safety nets - that we're somehow owed, or deserve a comfortable, luxurious lifestyle.  For those who attain that, some are desperate and will do anything to keep it so.
  • For many leaders, it's about them: "How can I get ahead / win / succeed / look good?  How can I get more recognition, pay and perks?  They've lost track of Robert Greenleaf's admonition that 
Win A Free Book! Navigating Integrity front cover
Enter the "WHO SAID THIS?" contest on our blog to win a free autographed copy of Navigating Integriity - Transforming Business As Usual Into Business At Its Best

"In this new book, Al Watts does a masterful job articulating how to live with integrity in our organization, on your team and in your life. A highly practical guide for leveraging the power of integrity."
(Kevin Cashman, Senior Partner Korn Ferrry)

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All the best,

Al Watts
inTEgro, Inc.
ph: (612) 827-2363

Al Watts
inTEgro, Inc