The three enveloppes

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Our culture tends to consider failure as a fault and not as an error, as a result first of all we look for guilt rather than for the root cause of the error.

Naturally the reaction of the culprit is to defend himself and to bring any justifications to exonerate himself instead of assuming the failure and learning from it. The history often told of the three envelopes illustrates perfectly this posture. I do not resist to the pleasure to share it again with you.

French version


A manager, who was just fired, welcomes his successor. Instead of providing him with plenty of advices, he gives him only three closed enveloppes numbered 1, 2 and 3 and recommends him to open the first one when he meet a first failure that he could not succeed to avoid. Then the second one for the following failure and the envelope number 3 if a third failure occurs engaging his responsibility.

After some few weeks the first big error occurs. The new manager tries and finds out good explanations for his manager. Finally he recalls the three envelopes and opens the number one. Inside he can read a laconic message :

” Say that it is the fault of your predecessor. “

He does so and his manager accepts the excuse.

Several months later, he faces a new problem and opens the envelope number 2 where he finds another clear and brief advice :

” Say that it is due to the processes. “

The manager gets out of this bad situation.

Then comes the third failure. This time the message extracted from the envelope number three is irrevocable :

” Prepare three envelopes! “.


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