Tylenol recall


The classic case study of embracing failure in business is the famous Tylenol recall. While Johnson & Johnson could have been shrugged the isolated incident off as a fluke case of a deranged individual, instead they took full corporate responsibility by recalling all of their product and introducing comprehensive and costly changes to the security of their product which changed packaging forever.

A more recent incident brought Tylenol’s corporate responsibility culture into the spotlight again with another recall a few years back. Bret Simmons highlighted it in a post a while back and what intrigued me was the intersection of “embracing failure” along with “black box complexity”…

  • Watch this video of the J&J CEO, Bill Weldon, apologizing for his company’s failure. I see him accepting full responsibility for the failure, but it’s clear to me that he does not yet understand what went wrong. His system is very complex, and as CEO, he has no idea how his employees on the front line are behaving. He does acknowledge that he has a systemic problem that manifest itself in management and employee behavior, which I think is critical. I don’t think Bill Weldon is to blame for the failure, but his own behavior was part of the complexity that is the root of the problem. Unless he sees this and changes his own behavior and the behavior of those that lead this giant company, we will have little hope of driving effective change throughout the organization.”

In a world of increasing complexity leading to greater ‘black box’ opacity one could argue that leaders and managers are more removed from the ability and therefore accountability to control such failures. Some degenerates, especially in the financial sector, literally bank on this get-out-of-jail-free notion. But I would argue that the higher the complexity index rises in your field of business, the greater your responsibility to embrace failure and guard against the downsides even more diligently.