Mistakes – how to be successful and popular?

A recent study found no association between perfectionism and productivity at work. However, it did reveal that certain types of perfectionists are less popular with their colleagues. A “self-oriented perfectionist” sets very high standards only for him/herself; a “socially prescribed perfectionist” believes that the acceptance of others is dependent on his/her own perfection; while the “other-oriented perfectionist” expects flawlessness from those around him/her. No prizes for guessing which type people didn’t want to work with.

In a 2018 meta-analysis of perfectionism in the workplace, people were classified as either “excellence-seeking”, those fixated on achieving high standards, or “failure-avoiding”, those whose focus was on not making mistakes. This latter type of perfectionist were more likely not to be “agreeable”. That makes sense too.

According to table tennis champion Matthew Syed, in a podcast aired by the ABC, by avoiding mistakes we limit our opportunity to learn. Growth and new skills develop via the pathway of trial and error. Babies, infants and young children understand this as they learn the necessary skills to go to school. Unfortunately, despite all the advantages of an education, by the teenage years of peer pressure, failing becomes something to be avoided. As Syed points out, while the mindset to learn from mistakes is common in many sports, it is not prevalent in our social and political institutions.

Despite this intolerance for errors in institutions, Governments do make mistakes. By way of John Lord’s Great Australian Policy Stuff-ups series of articles published in 2019, I came across the Top-13 list. The list was compiled in 2006, so you will need to decide which more recent events surpass those included and summarised below. The full piece is an entertaining read.

13. Invention of Canberra (1908)

Canberra is a document of Australian immaturity‘, Sir William Keith Hancock (1898-1988), Australian historian, 1930.

12. Patrick White Wins the Nobel Prize (1972)

The Nobel Prize commendation said that White ‘for the first time, has given the continent of Australia an authentic voice that carries across the world’.

I am amazed at the way Australians have reacted, in a way they usually behave only for swimmers and athletes’, said Patrick White.

11. Federal money for science blocks at non-government schools (1963)

This was the beginning of Federal aid for private schools and the beginning of the end for the possibility of a student-centred system for funding schooling in Australia.

10. The Release of Cane Toads (1935)

In a sort of a reverse Stockholm Syndrome, cane toads have entered Australian popular folklore as ironic heroes. There was outrage when Federal MP Dave Tollner (from the Northern Territory) publicly embraced the killing of toads with a variety of blunt instruments, including golf clubs and cricket bats. A cane toad is notoriously difficult to eliminate by such methods, and not even backing a ute over one will guarantee its demise. Instead, the RSPCA recommends euthanasing it in the freezer.

9. Publication of John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty (1859)

Published in 1859, On Liberty is one of the foundation documents of modern liberalism. Its arguments for freedom of religion and freedom of speech were radical and enormously powerful. As the influence of Mill’s political ideas grew during the nineteenth century, more attention came to be given to his economic theories. The problem was that while in the political sphere Mill encouraged small government, when it came to economics, he embraced state intervention and industry protection.

8. The Labor Party Split (1955)

‘The Split’ kept the Liberals in power and kept Labor out of power during the 1950s and 1960s. Depending on one’s political sympathies, this was either a good thing or a bad thing. But the long-term effects of the Split were disastrous for both sides of politics, and for Australian politics generally. The root cause of the Split was communism.

7. Immigration Restriction Act (1901)

The very first Act passed in the new Parliament of Australia was to give effect to a White Australia Policy. The Immigration Restriction Act excluded non-white potential immigrants (and anyone else thought undesirable) primarily by introducing a dictation test whereby immigration officers could require potential immigrants to undergo dictation in any European language. Later, the dictation test was extended to any language. Racially based immigration was effectively abolished in 1966 when the dictation test was eliminated by the Liberal government of Harold Holt, and the Act was formally repealed by the Whitlam Labor Government in 1973.

6. WA Town Planning and Development Act (1928)

The Western Australian Town Planning and Development Act 1928 was the first such in Australia to give local government the power to control the use of private land. This had spread to all States by 1955 and increased in its regulatory intensity. The upshot has been a progressive and accelerating reduction in land available for housing. Most importantly, it has brought a vast increase in prices.

5. The Uniform Tax Cases (1942 and 1957)

There are two main villains in the story of the death of federalism in Australia. Commonwealth politicians should bear most of the blame—but their desire to centralise political power into their own hands is entirely to be predicted. The second villain, the High Court, is less easily excused. One of the greatest fallacies of Australian politics is the claim that the Constitution is difficult to change. What is usually forgotten is that a referendum is only one way of changing the Constitution. Another way the Constitution can be changed is by the decisions of the High Court, and successive Court judgements have completely subverted the balance between the Commonwealth and State governments.

4. The Montreal Olympics (1976)

Stephen Holland’s failure to win the Gold Medal in the 1500 metres freestyle at the 1976 Montreal Olympics was the key trigger for one of Australia’s greatest public policy disasters. From the initial setting up of the Australian Institute of Sport to fund some Olympic sports, Federal Government involvement has grown into massive public funding of elite sport across the board, with State governments joining in to set up their own facilities.

3. Wireless Telegraphy Act (1905)

The Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1905 inaugurated the century-long comedy of errors that is Australian media and telecommunications policy. Communications regulation also formed the sharp end of the wedge of big government in Australia. In 1901, the Postmaster-General’s Department was inaugurated with 16,000 public servants—90 per cent of the total Commonwealth administrative staff at that time.

2. The Harvester Judgement (1907)

The Harvester Judgement of 1907 effectively established the basic wage in Australia. The imposition of wage levels by judicial fiat, in defiance of prevailing conditions of supply and demand in the labour market, has been a disaster for Australia since that time.

1. The End of the Reid Government (1905)

The defeat of George Reid’s Government on 5 July, 1905 signalled the end of the last chance that Australia had to avoid the full imposition of the Australian Settlement. In the post-Federation parliaments, The Free Trade Party, lead by Reid, was the last to get a turn in government, following both the Protectionists, under Barton and Deakin, and Labor, under Watson. By putting the division on tariffs aside and conceding on other issues, Reid tried to get a joint Free Trade and Protection focus on ‘anti-socialism’. Some have argued that, if he had succeeded, free trade ideas would have remained a significant component of non-Labor politics.

Image: The Simpsons