Lessons to be Learned – Lessons have been Learned

No, I am not referring to the 2008 debut album of the Australian singer-songwriter, Gabriella Cilmi. Rather, I am referring to a depressing mantra of which I have lost count of the number of times the words oozed out of the mouths of politicians, bureaucrats, bankers, policy advisers and people in responsible positions. Indeed, lessons to be learned: from the near or actual “banking collapse’, from ‘students protests that got out of hand’, from the negligence and bad practice that resulted in the death of patients, from the total gridlock and shut-down of our transport system when it snows…The list is endless and the answers and the above stock mantra are mindboggling. Banks, bankers and their insistence on calculator breaking bonuses (in terms of digits) underscore that lessons are far from being learned!

Sitting at the receiving end of this now trite and clichéd comment, one can be excused for uttering unrepeatable expletives and throwing objects at one’s telly. This is more so the case as it becomes quickly evident that the same mistakes or problems were encountered the previous year or not so long ago. One can legitimately ask: what are these lessons? How do we know that they have been learnt? Who are the ones learning? What assurance can the public be given that they have been learned? Who are monitoring whether these lessons are learned or not? And what happens if they are repeated again? More bonuses and salary increments?

If lessons are not learned, at least they should be paid attention to, so that we will not make the same mistakes again. But, the overwhelming evidence before us is that we seem unable to learn lessons. Or if we do, we quickly revert to our restrictive and bad habits. Perhaps we are not even sure what mistakes we are making and where we have gap in our assets and the management of the same. As one colleague noted recently: lessons are learned, but after missing the boat umpteen times or finding oneself up the creek too often! It is a strange phenomenon that with all our management gurus, experts, highly paid CEO’s, and pundits we still cannot grasp that lessons are really not learned until relevant process assets have been improved and the process becomes core to the life of an organisation or department.

Perhaps, the tendency towards the quick and glib comment about “lessons have been learned” is more a reflection of an ingrained excuse-a-holic habit we are yet to acknowledge. What starts as a personal habit, becomes part of the national psyche. The “excuses” we deploy to deny responsibility for our actions and what may be happening in our lives become mirrored in many manifestations of the Status Quo. No wonder much of our politics can be seen as projecting blame onto the other political group or some past ghost, while effectively denying responsibility to address problems and change direction for the well being of all. In the end unreality characterises much of our political and economic lives, and we become our own helpless victims. The sad irony is that we still continue to behave as if we can assume some high moral ground to be able to wag our fingers in the face of those less than perfect nations and peoples!

© copyright January 15, 2011

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