I had the pleasure of attending the Agilis conference in Iceland recently.

Christopher Avery gave an excellent keynote and spoke about the difference between accountability and responsibility; you are accountable to someone else but responsibility is personal.

He presented his six step ladder of responsibility:

  • Responsibility
  • Obligation
  • Shame
  • Justify
  • Lay Blame
  • Denial
For example, I'm typing this in TextEdit on my Macbook whilst on a train to XP Day. The font is small and my eyesight is fading. For a moment I struggled to discern the tif in the word Justify. I could almost hear a tiny voice inside my head starting to blame. But then I jumped to Responsibility because I realised the fault was not with TextEdit but with me. I simply enlarged the font size.

Christopher handed out a sheet expanding a little on the six step ladder above.
  • Responsibility is owning your ability and power to create, choose, and attract. It's about your ability to make a response - to respond.
  • Obligation is doing what you have to do instead of what you want to. As always, if you listen carefully, you can hear this distinction in patterns of speech "… but I have to …".
  • Justify where we attempt to rationalise the blame, to use excuses for things being the way they are; we make things just in our mind.
  • Shame is laying blame on oneself (often felt as guilt).
  • Lay Blame (which is not a French verb ;-) is holding others at fault for causing something.
My son Patrick has Asperger's Syndrome and he has a strong tendency to blame. For example, if he bumps his elbow on the door he gets angry and blames the door. He finds it very difficult to move past this blame, to get inside a positive feedback loop which helps him become less clumsy. So I think laying blame is more than holding other people at fault, it can take the form of blaming anything - anything except oneself.

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