Lessons Learned. Sure.

Lessons Learned. Sure.

The Department of Defense, NASA, Department of Energy, and many corporations have “Lessons Learned” programs, systems, policies, and procedures.

“Lessons Learned” means “We spent time and resources and all we have to show for it is this report, a catalog of catastrophes entitled ‘Lessons Learned.'”

A “Lessons Learned” report is a ceremonial corporate mea culpa that will be swiftly embalmed, buried, entombed in archives, and unread by the next set of leaders, who will embark on similar misguided projects of their own.

Don’t bother with automation that pops up with former flop facts when new teams design the daring debacles of tomorrow; this will be ignored. Don’t play institutional historian and wave old “Lessons Learned” reports at planners; you will hear how inept the old team was, how today’s conditions are different, and how you really need to stop being negative and disloyal and start being a team player if you value your job.

And don’t say “I told you so” when the new team delivers a “Lessons Learned” report instead of a product.


It’s easier to identify a lesson than to get an organization to act on it and implement a useful solution. For that reason, the British like to use the phrase “lessons identified” to make clear that just noting a problem does not solve it. When you uncover a problem, you are calling into question the wisdom of some earlier decisions. Large organizations do not take kindly to such criticism. Excuses and creative explanations will emerge if a lesson learned threatens some cherished program. 
James Dunnigan


Image generated with JJ Chandler’s Tombstone Generator by Mike Licht. Download a copy of the image here. Creative Commons license; credit Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com.

One Response to “Lessons Learned. Sure.”

  1. Flu Fear Mongering « NotionsCapital Says:

    […] for Outbreak Communications, but “lessons observed” are not the same as “lessons learned.”  Vice President Biden, for one seems to have missed the media training on […]

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