Among our most human failings is that whenever something goes wrong, we look for something or someone–other than ourselves–to blame.

It seems no one is immune from this onerous tendency, even at the loftiest levels. For instance–way back when–a famous consumer of forbidden tree-hanging edibles looked skyward and whined: “Dont blame me. It was that woman creature you gave me.”

I think it truthfully can be said that throughout history, blame has been shifted more than the gears on a 1962 VW Beetle with a seven-figure odometer readout. Of course, placing blame doesnt always have to be a moral lapse, an attempt to make ourselves look better, or a neurotic defense mechanism, but it certainly is easier than owning up to responsibility for an oversight or failure.

One of the most deplorable trends in blamedom is to put the onus on something that cant defend itself, namely that insidious “villain”–technology. After all, if we blame a person for, say, a business failure, that person might fire back. He or she might even find a way to blame us!

How much simpler and more elegant it is to say, “It was our old, faulty, outdated, inadequate technology that took this company down the tubes.” When we do so, much to our delight, the hardware stares back at us with nary a whimper of protest. The software remains respectfully functioning, or not, on the screens before us.

And, best of all, people actually buy this inane line of reasoning. They act as if the technology suddenly sprang unbidden from the buildings outlets and took over while we humans looked on helplessly. The idea that some person or persons planned, specified, purchased and configured the offending, inadequate, outdated technology never comes up, or is barely mentioned.

A recent story in Computerworld cited a House and Senate report blaming “an antiquated IT infrastructure,” along with infighting between the FBI and other intelligence agencies, for our nations 9/11 intelligence failure. While there was some human culpability here, at least half the blame was laid at the feet of the technology itself, as if inadequate databases were an excuse for one intelligence service not making a phone call to another. Incredible.

Despite the most horrendous cost, we blithely accept the inevitability of technology failure and ignore the human element of responsibility.

And what about another recent technology “failure,” the massive August power outage that plunged the entire Northeast into darkness? I find it fascinating that as of this writing, “authorities” have been unable to pin down the human cause, although companies were quick to jump up and proclaim, “It wasnt us!” Instead, the blame has been placed on our “antiquated” power grid, but few fingers have been pointed at the individuals who designed the system or at those who are responsible for maintaining that grid.

If I come home and find my 15-year-old son hasnt mowed the lawn, will I buy the excuse that: “I couldnt do it because I didnt have that state-of-the-art high-tech riding mower we saw at Home Depot”? I dont think so. But when it comes to technology, were willing–even eager–to ignore inaction, poor planning, or inept execution and lay the blame on an outdated device or a few lines of allegedly bad code.

When we talk about technology for the insurance industry, the blame game is also a popular pastime. Just ask most of those insurers who found that their multimillion-dollar customer relationship management (CRM) projects either failed or were never completely implemented. Industry analysts like Stamford, Conn.s Meta Group have confirmed that as many as 70% of CRM systems implementation projects have failed. Im sure it was easy for many of those companies to just throw up their hands and say, “This program just doesnt work.”

But the experts also said that in many of the failed CRM projects, companies hadnt made the operational changes necessary to allow the CRM systems to function. In other cases, analysts like Conning & Company, Hartford, Conn., said companies treated CRM as strictly a technology effort, rather than as a fundamental business strategy for the entire company. Whatever the reasons, there has been plenty of blame to go around on the human side for these failures. And lets not forget that at least 30% of the CRM projects did succeed.

Sidestepping responsibility or shifting the blame is not a behavior most of us would accept from our children, so why do we tolerate it from adults who should know better? Not only is such behavior dishonest, it is extremely destructive–because it allows the real cause of a projects failure to remain undetected. That means a firm is likely to repeat the same foolish mistakes that doomed IT Project Number One when they take on Project Number Two.

Its my suggestion that, rather than try to shift or deflect blame, we honestly acknowledge our failings and try to learn something from the people who have been successful at doing what were trying to do.

Yes, I know its not easy to put the blame on departments or individuals or (perish the thought) ourselves, but its time to suck it up and do what needs to be done to correct past missteps. As that great Mississippi philosopher Albert King once intoned: “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.”

Your workstations and networks have been whipping boys long enough. Lets do the right thing and save those innocents whose only crime was to have been born as “technology.”

The good news is that in most instances of failed projects theres probably a lot of blame to go around. Its likely that just about everyone involved had some hand in a given projects demise.

Heck, you might even want to take some of that blame on yourself, just to avoid being left out. Or maybe not.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, September 8, 2003. Copyright 2003 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.