Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

BG HR McMaster: Allow active mistakes, but don’t tolerate errors of passivity

"Commanders and senior civilian officers must be willing to underwrite mistakes," Army Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster wrote in his paper. "Mistakes of commission should be tolerated, passivity should not." I think he is right — this distinction is something the Army needs to work on. Too often it has an incentive structure that punishes mistakes ...

FortBraggParaglide/flickr
FortBraggParaglide/flickr
FortBraggParaglide/flickr

"Commanders and senior civilian officers must be willing to underwrite mistakes," Army Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster wrote in his paper. "Mistakes of commission should be tolerated, passivity should not."

I think he is right -- this distinction is something the Army needs to work on. Too often it has an incentive structure that punishes mistakes but not indecision or passivity. McMaster's comment struck me as remarkably similar to Warren Buffett's statement in his latest annual report that I quoted recently, that at his company, "We would rather suffer the visible costs of a few bad decisions than incur the many invisible costs that come from decisions made too slowly -- or not at all -- because of a stifling bureaucracy."  

"Commanders and senior civilian officers must be willing to underwrite mistakes," Army Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster wrote in his paper. "Mistakes of commission should be tolerated, passivity should not."

I think he is right — this distinction is something the Army needs to work on. Too often it has an incentive structure that punishes mistakes but not indecision or passivity. McMaster’s comment struck me as remarkably similar to Warren Buffett‘s statement in his latest annual report that I quoted recently, that at his company, "We would rather suffer the visible costs of a few bad decisions than incur the many invisible costs that come from decisions made too slowly — or not at all — because of a stifling bureaucracy."  

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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