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What is Group Think?


Group Think is quite often present in many of the world’s greatest disasters.  It is often only in retrospect that the presence of Group Think is shown to be present and the fundamental cause of a disaster.  The key issue is how do you identify it and prevent it from occurring in the first place.  This is where you can read what the writers at Wikipedia think about the issue http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Group_think. The following is an extract of the article:



Groupthink is a type of thought exhibited by group members who try to minimize conflict and reach consensus without critically testing, analyzing, and evaluating ideas. Individual creativity, uniqueness, and independent thinking are lost in the pursuit of group cohesiveness, as are the advantages of reasonable balance in choice and thought that might normally be obtained by making decisions as a group.[1] During groupthink, members of the group avoid promoting viewpoints outside the comfort zone of consensus thinking. A variety of motives for this may exist such as a desire to avoid being seen as foolish, or a desire to avoid embarrassing or angering other members of the group. Groupthink may cause groups to make hasty, irrational decisions, where individual doubts are set aside, for fear of upsetting the group’s balance. The term is frequently used pejoratively, with hindsight.



What is the cost of Group Think disasters?


There is no shortage of policy decisions and fiascoes that can be traced back to Group Think as the underlying cause.  In fact many books have been written about the subject.  One of the best books on the subject is “Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decision and Fiascoes” by Irving L Janis . 


How many zeros are in a trillion dollars?  The cost of the financial crisis sweeping the world has not yet been identified as resulting from some major global banks dropping lending standards in a Group Think disaster, but history may well reveal that it was. If you have any doubt about this read the articles at http://www.worldbank.org/  or one of the numerous blogs, such as: http://www.globaleconomiccrisis.com/blog/ .  What do you think the cause was?


In the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making , Volume 2 Issue 3, Pages 167-177 an Article was published by James K. Esser and Joanne S. Lindoerfer entitled Groupthink and the shuttle challenger accident: Toward a quantitative case analysis.


It puts the case that there was strong evidence showing groupthink was a contributing factor in the incorrect decision to launch the Challenger and the disaster that followed.


In the next post I will continue to look at the intriguing topic of Group Think and what can be done to identify it and prevent the damage it can do at an organization level.


Jack Taggerty


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