Error as a Rule Violation
If it is correct that organisations must decide (in order to survive) whether they handle a matter in a rule- conformant way or situation-specifically, then the common definition of error as a ‘rule violation’ cannot be maintained. Nor can it be that when you adhere to a recognised rule, that this is interpreted as a sign of freedom from error. After all, when no rule ‘completely’ fits a situation, then it is always ‘a little bit’ wrong to act in accordance with the rules. Also, the respective converse arguments prove futile: It is neither right to always decide on a case by case basis (=creation of uncontrollable complexity), nor is it correct to see something wrong in following the rules, just because they contain something inappropriate for this one moment. It gets even more confusing if one assumes (frequent in the organisational daily routine!) that there are situations in which competing and contradictory instructions are to be used for the same situation (“Always deliver this report to the Management on time!” and “Never leave the customer waiting with his concern!”).
What, in this case, is an error? In the light of these considerations one simple sentence remains: “A mistake is a lack of judgment about whether one should and how one should deviate from a recognised rule.” Therefore, the highest importance, for effective organisations, must be attributed to the training, reviewing and internalisation of this power of judgment in employees (an old-fashioned word for this is conscience!).