Megan McArdle ascribes the cause of Margaret Thatcher’s biggest debacle to a string of successes. She was right so often it blinded her to the possibility of being wrong. She gained so much confidence in her own judgment that she had little defense against inevitable error.
After a string of successful privatizations, often conducted over the vocal objections of all the best people, U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party decided it needed to reform the taxation system … This would not only please the folks who ran local party operations, but also strike a blow against overbearing left-wing councils, which in some northern cities were run by actual Communists.
The reform they came up with was known as the Community Charge, a per-capita tax that we would call a head tax, and in Britain was popularly known as the Poll Tax. The riots that this new scheme sparked were therefore known as the Poll Tax Riots…
The takeaway, as tired as it sounds, is that negative feedback is often more powerful than positive feedback. Organizations have a tendency to ignore Dr. No or, worse, fire him. But silencing your critics is a good way to set yourself up for total disaster. That doesn’t mean letting critics shut you down. But it does mean taking everything they say as seriously as the rah-rah sentiments of the policy cheerleaders.
It’s hard to admit error, especially where you might be plausibly right; especially when you’ve long been right. When the fall comes, all you know even after the fact is that some terrible screwup has happened, though it is unclear at first exactly why.
Peter Lanza, the father of the Sandy Hook killer, reflecting on his role as a father, told New Yorker writer Andrew Solomon he clearly should have done something differently in raising his son but can’t say what. “Any variation on what I did and how my relationship was had to be good, because no outcome could be worse”.
Yet the two things Peter Lanza believes beyond a doubt are 1) that he escaped death by quitting Adam Lanza’s presence: “with hindsight, I know Adam would have killed me in a heartbeat, if he’d had the chance. I don’t question that for a minute. The reason he shot Nancy four times was one for each of us: one for Nancy; one for him; one for Ryan; one for me”; and 2) that nobody could see it coming. “Those mental health professionals who saw him did not see anything that would have predicted his future behavior. Here we are near New York, one of the best locations for mental-health care, and nobody saw this.”