Group Think

kinnon —  January 25, 2006 — Leave a comment

Brent Edwards has a post worth reading – Decision Making, Groupthink and Scientific Debate. (And he’s wise enough to quote my Ideal-Killing Leaders post <grin> which was also picked up on Fortune’s Innovation Insider Blog – a blog I’ve added to my must read list and you should to – and not just because they quote me.)

When I consider healthy discussions that take place in the scientific world, vigorous debate (or at least consideration) of opposing alternatives is critical for the successful development of ideas and identification of promising new areas of research. The ideas that withstand critical challenges from colleagues end up being the most robust and strongest theories. The best scientific labs that I’ve experienced have regular meetings where no assumptions go unchallenged, and alternatives to the consensus thinking are given serious consideration, with everyone in the lab actively participating in this process.

Brent goes on to talk about the meetings where “leaders” supposedly lead – and no other voices are heard:

Now, think about decision-making business meetings in which you have attended. First, how many of them consisted of a couple people doing all of the talking, with the other people contributing nothing to the discussion–their silence an implicit agreement with whatever the primary speaker concludes? Ever wonder why those silent people were in the meeting in the first place? Some may be there as legitimate observers, simply absorbing information to relay to their group or to incorporate into their own group’s process. Most of the silent ones, however, probably have something to say but learned a long time ago that comments contrary to the company’s normal viewpoint are quickly dismissed or given lip service.

And then from my own experience, there are those meetings where there is much “sound and fury” signifying little – where the leader has their own cheerleading section who make lots of noise but add next to nothing to the discussion. I’m reminded of a story from the early nineties – two brothers who were designer friends of mine had done the new cover of a well known directory.

They described a meeting with their client and his staff. When they asked for the client’s opinion, his opening gambit was that he had a concern with something in the design. Immediately his team began to take apart the cover – finding anything and everything they could think of that was wrong with it. Richard, one of the designers quickly stopped them and asked, “What do you like about the design?” The client’s response was immediately, “Oh, I love it, it’s just that one thing…” The rest of the room either shut up or began to praise the designers’ work. I’ve often wondered what the purpose was served by the client having his team with him. Echo chambers add nothing to the idea-generating/creative process.

Brent’s entire post is worth reading.

UPDATE: Read Ed Brenegar’s take on this.

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A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

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