Failures of complex socio-technical systems such as aircraft crashes, oil well blowouts and nuclear power station accidents are to be avoided given the potential for deaths, environmental damage and financial costs, and yet research suggests that lessons from past failures are often not well learned. Based on interviews with employees in companies that operate such hazardous technologies, this chapter investigates learning from failures by considering two disparate attitudes to failure observed among engineers and senior managers. An engineering approach to performance improvement values failure and seeks to learn everything possible from it. This positive value placed on failure contrasts with a managerial approach founded in the concept of continuous improvement. In this relativist frame of reference, organisations never experience failure, but rather performance that can be improved from what is characterised as almost-perfect performance. Top management views on failure are both the result of and a contributor to an environment in which organisational success and failure are seen as opposites, rather than close relations. Until organisations see success and failure as two sides of the same coin and arising from the same set of organisational practices, we are unlikely to make further progress in preventing industrial disasters.
|Title of host publication||Routledge International Handbook of Failure|
|Editors||Adriana Mica, Mikołaj Pawlak, Anna Horolets, Paweł Kubicki|
|Place of Publication||London|
|Number of pages||18|
|Publication status||Published - 1 Jan 2023|