Five Ways To Avoid the Stupidity of “Group Think”

Never underestimate the human capacity for stupidity when operating in groups.Colonel T.X. Hammes quote from Crouching Tiger: What China’s Militarism Means for the World


Have you ever done something stupid as part of a group?

I think we have all fallen victim to stupid “group think” decisions. Everyone in the group gets caught up in the excitement of the moment and something that sounded like a great idea at the time turns out to be a really horrendous idea.

Many times we think that this only happens to school kids or college students but it happens all the time at the corporate level and in governments. Just think of all the stupid corporate decisions that were made in the banking and investment world leading up to the financial crash in 2008 and 2009. And what about the stupid decision by at least one corporation after the financial crash and after taking hundreds of millions of dollars in bailout money – to dole out executive bonuses and host a company convention in a high priced hotel.

That was most certainly a stupid group decision.

And then there are the stupid corporate decisions made in the last few years by companies like Blackberry and Motorola or the colossally stupid decisions made by Volkswagen!

Why do these things happen?

Colonel T.X. Hammes reminds us that humans tend to make stupid decision when operating in groups. I believe the fundamental reason behind this phenomenon is that these groups of people are focused on themselves and their needs and desires rather than the good of the people around them.

The moment a corporate board stops focusing on the reason the corporation exists and the customers they serve is the moment they start to make stupid “group think” decisions. As soon as a government loses sight of the needs and wants of the people that elected them is the second they start to make stupid “group think” decisions.

How can you avoid the pitfalls of a stupid “group think” decision?

  1. By having a well-defined and deeply ingrained vision for your corporation or organization. This vision will be your “north star” and will keep you aligned in all your decisions.
  2. By asking yourself a simple question that I got from Andy Stanley‘s Just Ask It. “In light of my past experiences, current situation, and future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing to do?”
  3. By establishing a mastermind group and your personal board of directors and running important decisions past them. These people are not part of your immediate group and will not be subject to the “group think” mentality. They will be able to give you an objective view on the decision at hand.
  4. By asking yourself: “Is this decision in the best interests of the corporation and all of the stakeholders we serve?”
  5. By giving the decision some time to “marinate” in your mind and revisit the decision at a later time to ensure it is well grounded.

Avoid falling victim to a stupid “group think” decision. Always remember why you are in business, the people that you serve and your corporate vision. Take an appropriate amount of time to think about your major decisions and ask yourself if this is the wise thing to do. Make sure you run major decisions past some trusted and wise people outside your organization to get their unbiased opinion.

Be careful when you blindly follow the masses, sometimes the ‘m’ is silent.” Anonymous

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5 thoughts on “Five Ways To Avoid the Stupidity of “Group Think”

  1. These things were not a part of group think – they were due to greed. They weren’t thinking of share holders they were thinking of themselves – the execs at the top. All your examples were just about one of two things primarily the first. Greed – I want more for me how can I dupe people out of their money and put it in my pocket. The second ego. I must take over the world.

    • Good point Celia. Greed and ego are certainly core issues or behaviors that drove some of these bad decisions. Group think happens when the majority of the leaders of these organizations go along with these decisions instead of considering the 5 things I listed in the post and adjusting their decisions appropriately.

  2. I appreciate the article and suggestions, David. Groupthink can be insidious and often based on false values of safety, complacency or fear. Worse, GT crushes creative thought. No creative thought, no innovation.