Can Hiding Mistakes Help Your Career in Some Companies?


Cubicle Culture – Why Learn and Grow On the Job? It's Easier To Feign Infallibility

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In the Lean / Toyota Way mindset, we have the belief that we have to be open about our problems instead of hiding them, working around them, or covering them up. “No problems is a problem,” as the Toyota expression goes. Instead of blaming people, we're supposed to look for systemic causes that can be prevented in the future.

But, do we have to be careful with being open about problems (and our role in them) if we're not in a Toyota-like organization? This WSJ article says we might have to be cautious with this, as it gives examples of those who get ahead by never admitting they are wrong.

At work, some people just won't admit to making a mistake. They have a gripping fear that it will indict their character, attract more work and invite future blame — not to mention ruin a perfect record of never having admitted to one before.

To excel at never admitting mistakes, you have to take care to burnish your unaccountability and sorrylessness. It helps, for example, to have a fall guy, someone who has responsibility for a project who is less known to your boss than you are. Also, any mistake made under time pressure can be blamed on a lack of time. Soon enough, you'll combine elements, blaming the lack of time you had because of the sluggishness of the fall guy.

The article continues:

Flub artists sometimes get their just desserts. But in too many companies, nothing ever catches up with them. In fact, they seem to thrive, not in spite of their ability to avoid accountability but because of it.

The article compares two types of people:

In the business world and elsewhere, people either have a healthy belief in growth, whereby they expect to evolve their talents over time, or they possess a fixed mindset, whereby they believe their talents are innate traits that will carry them to the top.

So the Toyota method wants and encourages the latter, those who believe the grow and develop over time… what does your company value? What types of behavior does your company promote? The article gives a pretty disturbing example of some company cultures that reward “never apologizing,” suggesting that companies with the “fixed mindset” lead people to:

“wallow in your success and disown your failures rather than rectify them, which is what the growth-mindset people did.” Another study showed we can adopt a company's “fixed mindset” culture faster than you can say, “Sheep.”

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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

1 Comment
  1. […] you encourage employees to speak up and call out problems (ala “no problems is a problem“), as Paul Levy and BIDMC in Boston did, but you don’t have the organizational capacity […]

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