Errors of Commission. Errors of Omission.

Errors come in two different categories: (1) doing a wrong thing and (2) failing to do the right thing. We call these “errors of commission” and “errors of omission.”

In general, managers worry more about doing the wrong thing than they do about failing to do the right thing, even if the latter is just as important.

“Accounting systems in the Western world only take account of errors of commission, the less important of the two types of error. They take no account of errors of omission. Therefore, in an organization that frowns on mistakes and in which only errors of commission are identified, a manager only has to be concerned about doing something that should not have been done. Because errors of omission are not recorded, they often go unacknowledged. If acknowledged, accountability for them is seldom made explicit. In such a situation, a manager who wants to invoke as little disapproval as possible must try either to minimize errors of commission or transfer to others responsibility for those he or she makes.

“The best way to do this is to do nothing, or as little as one can get away with. This is a major reason that organizations do not make radical changes.”

Russell L. Ackoff, the Anheuser Busch Professor Emeritus of management science at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, in “Why Few Organizations Adopt Systems Thinking.”


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