The Blame Game: How the Hidden Rules of Credit and Blame Determine Our Success or Failure

Image of The Blame Game: How the Hidden Rules of Credit and Blame Determine Our Success or Failure
Release Date: 
March 14, 2011
Free Press
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“We can all benefit from learning to be more strategic when it comes to credit . . .”

When you read, “I’ve found that when individuals, teams, and organizations learn to hand out credit strategically and blame accurately, they create a virtuous cycle where they not only perform better and learn more, but are also happier and get more satisfaction out of their work” in Ben Dattner’s latest book, The Blame Game, you understand exactly where the book is going. The remainder of the book tells you the how.

As an organizational psychologist and consultant, Dr. Dattner shares several examples from working with his clients where he applied his philosophy. Most of the time things work as he plans, sometimes they do not. This revelation alone separates this work from others that might claim to have “THE answers,” adding creditability to The Blame Game.

Not at all an academic read, The Blame Game easily moves through its seven chapters at an even pace. If, however, someone wants to understand the gist of the book without reading the entire 209 pages, consider reading the introduction and the final chapter, Practical Approaches. This abridgement includes more than 20% of the page count and really does cover all of the important material in enough depth to grasp the approaches, benefits, and challenges. What would be lacking then is the detail and most of the anecdotal evidence.

Two of the more revealing and interesting points Dr. Dattner makes is when he shares with the reader that 1) we are hardwired to judge and 2) we try to be just a little better than everyone else (at least in our own minds).

In other words, we keep score.

Or as he puts it, “the stark truth is that credit and blame matter.” These two critical factors lead many to the self-defeating position of acting to benefit tactical (short-term) self-interest, while sacrificing the strategic (long-term) focus. This book highlights the error of this shortsighted thinking and acting.

Then there is the constant potential for self-delusion as our brains “distort our perceptions and behavior,” leading us to give ourselves more credit than we deserve while reducing our self-blame, what the author refers to as our “self-serving biases.”

Dr. Dattner then returns to this point multiple times throughout the book to remind us that we must constantly fight our natural urges in order to become better. These are not easy lessons to learn, so Dr. Dattner shares a number of how-to solutions without getting preachy.

In an attempt to clarify his contentions, he refers the reader to the area of psychology known as attribution theory in which we are able to “convince [ourselves] of the veracity of our self-serving self-assessments.” He goes on to divide this into personal attribution, in which we try to place blame on other people when things don’t go right; and situational attribution, in which we blame external factors for our failures. Awareness, once again, is key to fighting off the natural urges to act in ways that fail to optimize our own situation.

As one reads through this book and tries to learn the lessons contained therein, it gradually becomes clear that there is no one size fits all solution or way of acting or thinking that will be ideal. There are too many variables in the business world to develop the formula that everyone can follow. What Dr. Dattner tries to have the reader absorb are various helpful principles to adhere to—a skillset to be learned, tried, validated, and experientially adjusted.

The author even goes so far in this argument of no one size fits all, to make it clear that the differences between the generations (Baby Boomers, Gen X, Y, etc.) must be acknowledged in approaching dealing with credit and blame as well as in the calculation of what to do and when to do it. The differences between the genders in perception, internally as well as externally, cannot be ignored either.

Dr. Dattner takes the discussion from the individual to the corporate level: “the more an organization is able to constantly readjust its internal dynamics of credit and blame to align with a changing external marketplace or environment, the more likely it is to survive and thrive.” Where have we heard that before?

Finally, Dr. Dattner insists “blaming is ineffective at best, and more likely to be harmful.” The Blame Game further supports this statement by referring to a Harvard Medical School study by psychiatrist George Vaillant showing that people who “projected” or blamed others were much less able to adjust to changing events in their lives.

The bottom line: We tend to care more about building our self-esteem and enhancing our social standing instead of taking a longer-term view and acting in our pragmatic self-interest. We can all benefit from learning to be more strategic when it comes to credit and blame.