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People in law departments don’t remember accurately how they solved a problem

One of the bubbles burst in Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton, Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths & Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-Based Management (Harvard Bus. School Press 2006) at 49 is that managers remember well and therefore learn accurately from the past. There is “an enormous problem with inferences based on recollection.” Humans have terrible memories, and worse, according to the authors, those lousy memories are further distorted when events are labeled successes or failures. As the authors put it, “using reports from winners and losers to find ways to turn your … team into a winner is questionable at best.”

Unfortunately, journalists, consultants, and others outside law departments depend on participants from a law department to recall how the department triumphed. Their memories are incomplete, changeable, and biased. In all likelihood, revisionist history runs rampant.

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