07 June 2005

Groupthink, Part 1

I've finally gone back to read the sociological classic, "Groupthink", by Irving L. Janis.

This book's title has made it's way into the vernacular as a shorthand for people having a blind conformance to group norms. I always thought the usage was appropriate, so I eventually went back to look at the source. It turns out the popular usage is very much in line with what the original author wrote, almost a surprise in itself.

And, as you would hope in a source work like this, the author goes all analytical on us and gets into specific lists of symptoms of groupthink taking hold among a bunch of people. Here's his list from the first case study of groupthink symptoms. I found this list totally chilling because I witness these symptoms in management thinking at a certain large company where I work.

The illusion of Invulnerability
The illusion of being invulnerable to the main dangers that might arise from a risky action in which the group is strongly tempted to engage
The Illusion of Unanimity [The Illusion of Group Infallibility]
When a group of people who respect each other's opinions arrive at a unanimous view, each member is likely to believe that the belief must be true.
Suppression of Personal Doubts
Many forthright men who are quite willing to speak their piece despite risks to their career become silent when faced with the possibility of losing the approval of fellow members of their primary work group
Self-appointed Mindguards
Just as a bodyguard protects the President and other high officials from injurious physical assaults, a mindguard protects them from thoughts that might damage their confidence in the soundness of the policies to which they are committed

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