THE SHRILL VOICES OF THE SCOTTISH debate are more or less quiet now. On a day nearer to the date of the Scottish referendum, one stumbled across this interesting nugget posted by Jonathan Davies in FTfm (Financial Times Fund Management, a supplement published every fortnight by the Financial Times of London) on the Library of Mistakes, a charitable venture launched by Russell Napier, a market historian and investment strategist and funded by finance houses. The Library, situated at Edinburgh, is said to provide a glimpse of financial history with particular emphasis on “glorious and inglorious failures” in the world of finance so that Scotsmen have an opportunity to “learn from the mistakes of their forefathers.” Mr Napier hopes to set up more such libraries in other major investment centers around the world.
THE FINANCIAL WORLD SUFFERS from incredible short term memory. When a problem surfaces, by and large, the penchant of policy makers is to find a short term fix rather than an enduring long term solution. Political correctness holds sway over all other imperatives. The world appears to have not yet learnt its lessons from the recent financial crises and there is limited consensus on what the right solutions should be as everyone has an axe to grind – be it the politician, the economist or the policy maker. It is in this context that Russell Napier’s Library of Mistakes project assumes significance.
IN THE WORLD OF MEDICINE, AVIATION AND SHIPPING, doctors, pilots and masters have professional forums (some within the organizations they work for and others which are informal) where they share their experiences related to mistakes – including “near misses” so that there is a sharp focus on avoiding similar errors in the future to the maximum extent possible resulting in improved performance and efficiency. In the world of sport too, the mistakes made by both the winning and losing teams are analysed threadbare in order to improve performance and efficiency. Dr Atul Gawande went a step further and devised mandatory checklists for the medical world which he documented in his best seller The Checklist Manifesto.
ONE WONDERS IF THERE IS A PERSONAL early warning system or a mechanism that alerts us individually when we are about to repeat an error made in the past, lest these errors harden as habits. In school, errors made are sought to be remedied by what are commonly known as “impositions”. These are didactic and may not be good enough. We need to remind ourselves that the price of failure goes up each time a mistake is repeated but historical memory is indeed in short supply. Of course, mistakes will indeed occur and this per se is not an end-of-the-world situation. The trick is to ensure how we avoid repeating them.