Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Abilene Paradox

Today I saw Abilene Paradox in action. Situation: a group is given a task and everyone is coming up with ideas on how to execute it best. Finally, they arrive at a solution and find out that nobody is really keen to carry it out. The task is not mandatory and is not really adding much value. Still, everybody decides to spend time and energy on it...

"Groupthink" is a more common phenomenon than you think. Consider a situation (I am sure you won't need to race your memory very far back) when you and your friends/relatives/colleagues were having a great time over a drink and it is sort of time to call it a day, and then someone suggest that you hit just one more bar, and even though everyone is tired and wants to go home, they agree because they see that everyone around agrees as well. The term coined for it is Abilene Paradox, born from a management education video by Jerry Harvey.

I also found a later version of that video (turning peanut oil into jet fuel - eish!) on youTube, worth checking out.

So now sitting at home I am thinking: I know this stuff, I know how this works - why is it so difficult to break out of groupthink? Peer pressure... everyone thinks you are nuts... people cling to their ideas faster than to the railing of a high-rise building on a windy day. Courage is key. I repeat - c-o-u-r-a-g-e! That is one leadership competence which is most difficult to cultivate. Not impossible but tough. But then, not everyone needs to be a leader, right?

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