Tuesday, 12 January 2010

The Arnold Schwarzenegger Business Lesson: Judgement Day for a blame culture


Just watching people blame each other is enough to establish a culture of blame in an organisation.

The current edition of New Scientist reports on an article snappily entitled, “Blame contagion: The automatic transmission of self-serving attributions” which was recently published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, and concludes that “we already know that people are more likely to blame others when they themselves have been blamed - a 'kick-the-dog' kind of effect." But, according to the results of recent experiments, a blame attitude can even spread to mere witnesses of a public dressing-down.

In one experiment, run by Nathanael Fast of the Department of Management and Organization, University of Southern California, one group of volunteers were asked to watch footage of California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger blaming others for a failed strategy, and a separate group to watch a different clip of him accepting personal responsibility for it.

When asked to write about a failure of their own afterwards, those in the first group (i.e. those who had watched Arnie terminating his team with blame!) were 30 per cent more likely to blame this failure on others than those in the second group.

The findings of the report are quite frightening: not only is blame socially contagious, but when people blame others for their mistakes, they learn less and perform worse.

"Leaders who want to prevent such a culture from spreading should be careful not to be seen pointing the finger," concludes the report.

New Scientist: Why the blame game shouldn't be played in public

  • Is it realistic to aim for a completely blame-free culture in the competitive organisation of today?


  1. Hi Graham - in response to whether it is realistic to aim for a completely blame-free culture - I would say that should be the ultimate goal, irrespective of whether that goal can be attained, it should be continually strived for.

    There is however a difference between a blame culture and a culture of accountability - taking responsibility rather than pointing the finger.

  2. When our organisations are staffed by robots then perhaps a blame-free culture is achievable (competitive organisation or not).

    Sure, we can aim for an enabling culture where people take responsibility for their actions but don’t we blame each other for the simplest of things if we got out of the wrong side of the bed that morning? If we blame our colleagues for a spilt cup of coffee then how can you expect us to take it on the chin when some work issue goes wrong?

    Anyway - stop posting interesting blogs and I’d be able to get on with my work. It’s all your fault, you distraction you!!!