Posts Tagged ‘groupthink’

Avoid The Ugly Grip Of Groupthink

May 4, 2014


Beware when a group assumes we know everything we need to know.


Not long ago big US banks and other financial institutions sold risky derivatives. They were high-risk sub-prime mortgages divided into investment “opportunities.” After the economic meltdown they created, a salesman was asked who would want to buy these. He replied: “Idiots.”

History shows very smart people discard clear signals about value and risk. In the desire for a big return, investors chose to emphasize what could support their choice; they ignored evidence. It blossomed into self-deception and then spread among peers. This is groupthink. It is dangerous because the focus is on protecting an unfounded treasured opinion. This ensures shared blind spots and ultimately generates bad decisions. In contrast, a healthy team provides multiple perspectives in candid, independent contributions. When information flows freely – it is more likely good decisions are made.

Because it’s effective and predictable, groupthink is consciously engineered. Too often it happens in crucial personnel selection and civic cheerleading that obfuscates challenges or accountability. A classic example was the decision to invade Iraq based on imaginary “weapons of mass destruction.” Sexism and racism rely on groupthink, too. They are efforts to protect a position that become habitual and are normalized.

Groupthink can happen in any situation where decision-makers are insulated. One or several things occur to feed it. The group is fooled by unreliable people, there’s failure to ask provoking questions and data is ignored (or skewed).The risks of insulation underscores the value of transparency. Because self-deception is so common, consciously steering past shared blind spots is vital in managing for results.

We can disarm the grim implications of groupthink by these tactics:

• Ask others to think about their thinking (meta-cognition),

• Spotlight what might get buried by bias, indifference or suppression,

• Assure quality information from multiple methods,

• Actively seek diverse as well as contrary opinion, and

• Surface assumptions.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See:

Beware of Maps & Traps

June 2, 2013


Most often, decisions are made by building models or maps in your mind based on what’s worked before. Then, people typically follow the old map. This common process has inherent dangers. The resulting flawed decisions have a host of other implications.

What habits of mind can unintentionally enable errors?

Illusions are one significant challenge. Three specific illusions can cause problems: (1) the belief our own ideas are superior to others (2) the tendency to overestimate chances of success (3) the false perception of control.

Priming is another common response to our environment that demonstrates how susceptible we are to external cues. For example, wine shoppers in a supermarket purchase considerably more French wine when French music plays and more German wine when German music plays.

Be aware humans are significantly influenced by titled positions and a desire to be an “insider.” This is known as crowd or herd behavior. If the ethics or skills of leaders are less than stellar – it can cause considerable grief in organizations and communities.

Most Destructive

Denial is the motherlode of dysfunction. Denial has direct connections to maps. It occurs when reality is so unappetizing that people refuse to acknowledge it. Harvard professor Richard Tedlow says it happens when “the smartest people in the room” can be very dumb. In his book, Denial: Why Business Leaders Fail to Face Facts, he cites tabloid examples like Enron along with well known companies like Coke, Ford, and IBM.

Action Steps

Denial is in play when people refuse to adjust course and oppose trusted advisors in the face of clear evidence. Here are a few ways to tackle it:

(1) Call out people who dismiss facts or create a version of reality (rationalize)

(2) Insist on straight talk with facts

(3) Challenge assumptions

(4) Avoid groupthink, its the same as crowd or herd behavior

(5) Aggressively create new culture  that lauds inquiry, evidence and learning

(6) Watch for symptoms of denial in your own thinking and others

In golf, “going to the beach” hurts your score. A sand trap is an unwelcome detour. When managing people, recognize and avoid common traps of the human mind. Get a firm grip on perception (what we see) and reality (what is).

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See:

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