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  • © 2018

How Could This Happen?

Managing Errors in Organizations

Palgrave Macmillan


  • Brings together contemporary scholarship on error management and leading industry practitioners for the first time

  • Offers a rare glimpse into error management in extremely high stakes professional environments

  • Provides a vital reference tool for organizations and leaders who want to learn from mistakes, rather than just shift the blame

Buying options

eBook USD 39.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • ISBN: 978-3-319-76403-0
  • Instant PDF download
  • Readable on all devices
  • Own it forever
  • Exclusive offer for individuals only
  • Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout
Softcover Book USD 49.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Hardcover Book USD 49.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)

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Table of contents (17 chapters)

  1. Front Matter

    Pages i-xix
  2. When Silence Is Not Golden

    • Immanuel Barshi, Nadine Bienefeld
    Pages 45-57
  3. Executive Perspectives on Strategic Error Management

    • Vincent Giolito, Paul J. Verdin
    Pages 59-80
  4. Learning Failures As the Ultimate Root Causes of Accidents

    • Nicolas Dechy, Yves Dien, Eric Marsden, Jean-Marie Rousseau
    Pages 105-128
  5. Errors and Error Management in Biomedical Research

    • Ulrich Dirnagl, René Bernard
    Pages 149-160
  6. Empowerment

    • Jan Brommundt
    Pages 161-172
  7. Open Error Communication in a High-Consequence Industry

    • Julianne Morath, Mallory Johnson
    Pages 173-193
  8. Confidence and Humility

    • Robert Schroeder
    Pages 195-202
  9. Just Culture

    • Helmut Kunz
    Pages 203-210
  10. Crew Resource Management Revisited

    • Jan U. Hagen
    Pages 233-251
  11. Lessons from a Nuclear Submarine Mishap

    • L. David Marquet
    Pages 265-272
  12. Back Matter

    Pages 287-292

About this book

The first comprehensive reference work on error management, blending the latest thinking with state of the art industry practice on how organizations can learn from mistakes.

Even today the reality of error management in some organizations is simple: “Don’t make mistakes. And if you do, you’re on your own unless you can blame someone else.” In most, it has moved on but it is still often centered around quality control, with Six Sigma Black Belts seeking to eradicate errors with an unattainable goal of zero.

But the best organizations have gone further. They understand that mistakes happen, be they systemic or human. They have realized that rather than being stigmatized, errors have to be openly discussed, analyzed, and used as a source for learning.

In How Could This Happen? Jan Hagen collects insights from the leading academics in this field – covering the prerequisites for error reporting, such as psychological safety, organizational learning and innovation, safety management systems, and the influence of senior leadership behavior on the reporting climate.

This research is complemented by contributions from practitioners who write about their professional experiences of error management. They provide not only ideas for implementation but also offer an inside view of highly demanding work environments, such as flight operations in the military and operating nuclear submarines.

Every organization makes mistakes. Not every organization learns from them. It’s the job of leaders to create the culture and processes that enable that to happen. Hagen and his team show you how.


  • organizational learning
  • innovation
  • business psychology
  • safety management
  • business systems
  • error management


“This is a very important book for the analysis of safety, quality, and employee engagement by focusing in detail on the many explanations for why individual and organizational errors occur, how they consistently create major accidents and organizational failures, and why organizations do not learn effectively from them. The multiple perspectives of the different authors provide a variety of explanations and apply these to many important cases.” (Edgar H. Schein, Professor Emeritus, MIT Sloan School of Management, author of Organizational Culture and Leadership, 5th Ed. (2017))

“Stories of error after the fact inevitably are simple and straightforward. But this conception belies what everyone knows to be true. Underneath simple, linear, obvious stories of error is a more complex reality, a sorrowful reality of actions going wrong. Errors have consequences for organizations, and they have consequences for the humans involved in them. Jan Hagen’s comprehensive volume of essays by a renowned set of scholars could not be timelier or more important for enhancing our understanding of errors and their management. This book is a blessing for scholars looking for new theoretical footholds in what some think has become a moribund domain of research inquiry. And, perhaps more importantly, it is an elemental book for leaders and others trying to manage complex organizational systems.” (Kathleen M. Sutcliffe, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Business and Medicine, Johns Hopkins University)


Editors and Affiliations

  • ESMT Berlin, Berlin, Germany

    Jan U. Hagen

About the editor

Jan Hagen is Associate Professor at ESMT, Germany. His research and teaching focus is on leadership. He is particularly interested in understanding how teams and organizations deal with errors. As well as journal articles, he published the book Confronting Mistakes – Lessons from the Aviation Industry when Dealing with Error (Palgrave Macmillan) in 2013. His research has received media coverage from outlets such as the BBC, The Economist, The Financial Times, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, The Guardian, Forbes, Handelsblatt, Harvard Business Manager, The Irish Times, Manager Magazin, Spiegel Online, and The Sunday Times. Jan runs the ESMT open programme Leadership under Pressure, and teaches in customized executive education programs and the human factor training of the German Federal Armed Forces. In addition to his academic work, he has more than 15 years of management and consulting experience.

Bibliographic Information

  • Book Title: How Could This Happen?

  • Book Subtitle: Managing Errors in Organizations

  • Editors: Jan U. Hagen

  • DOI:

  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan Cham

  • eBook Packages: Business and Management, Business and Management (R0)

  • Copyright Information: The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2018

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-3-319-76402-3Published: 09 August 2018

  • Softcover ISBN: 978-3-030-09480-5Published: 19 February 2019

  • eBook ISBN: 978-3-319-76403-0Published: 26 July 2018

  • Edition Number: 1

  • Number of Pages: XIX, 292

  • Number of Illustrations: 17 b/w illustrations, 1 illustrations in colour

  • Topics: Business and Management, Business Strategy and Leadership

Buying options

eBook USD 39.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • ISBN: 978-3-319-76403-0
  • Instant PDF download
  • Readable on all devices
  • Own it forever
  • Exclusive offer for individuals only
  • Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout
Softcover Book USD 49.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Hardcover Book USD 49.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)