Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Sack anyone who says “There are lessons to be learned going forward”

So you’re the Minister responsible for keeping the country moving after a few snowflakes have drifted to earth, or you’re the company responsible for making sure that passengers jetting off for Christmas don’t spend their holiday in Terminal 5, or you’re the captain of the England cricket team up against possibly the worst Australian team in history, or you’re the England football coach.

Things for which you are directly responsible go horribly wrong. What do you do?

(a) Admit you’ve got it all hopelessly wrong and that you’ll do your very best to put it right, but you’ll quite understand if everyone thinks you’re an idiot, and you’ll resign if that’s what your employer wants you to do

(b) Resign

(c) Try to pin the blame on someone else.

(d) Claim things aren’t really that bad, considering

(e) Blame extraordinary and unforeseeable circumstances (snow in winter, Australia picking a bowler who can bowl)

(f) Commit suicide

(g) Lie (“An alien did it and ran away”, “I’m not who you think I am”)

(h) Claim the voices in your head made you do it

(i) Say, “There are lessons to be learned going backwards”

(j) Say, “There are lessons to be learned going forward”

These days, miscreants are increasingly plumping for (j), seasoned with a dash of (c) and a soupcon of (e) thrown in to add piquancy.

England’s cricket captain Andrew Strauss, following his team’s humiliation at the Wacca, blamed his bowlers for not bowling well enough (true) and his batsmen for not scoring enough runs (true), before adding “There are lessons to be learned” (yeah - play better cricket).

Yesterday, some incompetent fool from BAA, the Spanish company responsible for making Heathrow an international laughing stock, blamed unforeseen circumstances and the airlines for not giving their customers the right information, before adding that there were lessons to be learned going forward (yeah - don’t let a Spanish company run Heathrow.)
I expect Hitler uttered the same phrase just before committing suicide in his bunker. No doubt Napoleon shouted it to his troops on the retreat from Moscow. Sir Fred Goodwin probably produced it when his deranged policies made it necessary for the taxpayer to bail out the bank he had destroyed (although the main lesson he leaned was probably that if you’re sufficiently incompetent, greedy and dishonourable, you can get away with just about anything these days). I imagine it was the first thing the Yorkshire Ripper said after his arrest (plus, of course, (h) - the one about hearing voices in your head).

When did we start giving people top jobs so that they could learn how to do the job? If it turns out to be a wonderful, life-enriching growth experience which allows you to learn how to do a whole bunch of stuff you didn’t previously have a clue about, that’s nice. But what would be even better is if you could actually do the job from Day One: otherwise, make it a trainee job and slash the salary by a factor of 40.

If you can’t learn lessons from a disaster, you’re a drooling moron who shouldn’t have been employed in the first place (take a bow, Gordon). Given that England has been taking part in Ashes series against Australia for 118 years, why exactly haven’t the lessons been learned yet? Given that this is the third winter in a row to see snow at Heathrow, what’s to learn?

Isn’t it about time that it was written into every employment contract that the use of the phrase “there are lessons to be learned going forward” will result in instant dismissal?


  1. 21 December 2010, The Grønmark Blog: Sack anyone who says “There are lessons to be learned going forward”

    Cue, right on time,

    21 December 2010, Telegraph View: Lessons must be learnt from Heathrow chaos

    Please see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/telegraph-view/8217961/Lessons-must-be-learnt-from-Heathrow-chaos.html
    Thursday, December 23, 2010 - 11:50 AM

  2. Evelyn Waugh once explained his refusal to vote Conservative again by saying that they had not turned the clock back by a minute during their time in power. DM's comment about the endless succession of failed Government IT projects shows that we continue to make the same mistakes by ignoring the evidence of failure. There are indeed lessons to be learned looking backwards.
    Friday, December 24, 2010 - 09:14 AM

  3. I’ve often wondered if the tendency to repeat the mistakes of the past has as much to do with generous public sector early retirement schemes as it does to the politicization of the civil service: I’ve no idea if it’s true, but several commentators at the time of the Credit Crunch conjectured that nobody who had been at the Treasury during the last great crash of the late 1980s remained in post by 2008 – and it therefore all came as a bit of surprise to them. I know age and experience don’t automatically guarantee wisdom (Vince Cable? Ken Clarke??) but positively disregarding these attributes does strikes me as deranged.

    As to your point about putting the clock back – can anyone think of a modern example of a country which put the clock back successfully after a period of mad liberalism? Thatcher and Reagan, in some respects, but they were both about as radical as you get. Has anyone managed to squeeze the liberal genie back into the bottle without destroying all vestiges of prosperity and freedom in the process? (Some might argue that successive Republican New York mayors have managed it – but has a whole country?)
    Friday, December 24, 2010 - 12:51 PM