Group Obedience

Have you ever stopped yourself from speaking up at a meeting because you felt that the idea or suggestion would not be appreciated or ridiculed? Groupthink is a phenomenon where the desire for group cohesiveness and a quick decision cloud the judgment of the people in the group. The decision taken is often less than ideal. Consequently, identifying warning signs of groupthink is vital. 

images (1)Bay of Pigs was a plan that many knew in advance would fail. Yet the American President J.F. Kennedy went ahead with the plans to try to invade Cuba despite the fact that several of the general knew that the plan would backfire.

Another example is the Challenger explosion, which was a disaster that occurred in 1986 where seven people died. Engineers of the space shuttle knew about some faulty parts months before takeoff, yet the signs were ignored to avoid negative press and the shuttle was launched. 

imagesFeelings of unanimity and morality within the group lead to the members thinking that everyone agrees. Members of the group may be afraid of controversy and there may be a pressure to conform to the group’s decision. In some cases, there is a pressure to make a quick decision and the group may work with incomplete information. This may result in an idea that is not balanced. Or it may result in a family going to Abilene despite the fact that no one wants to go. ScreenShot2012-01-27at115851AM

The Abilene Paradox was coined by Jerry B. Harvey, and author of “The Abilene Paradox and Other Meditations on Management”. 

There are a number of ways to avoid groupthink such as finding negative points and risks with an idea (see Thinkibility – Positive & Negative). Asking members outside the group to look at the idea is another way to reduce the effects of groupthink. 

Learning how to spot groupthink is vital. Signs of groupthink are a strong leader, high level of group cohesion and pressure from the outside to make a good decision.


Pressure of a moral character is difficult to deal with. For example, the suggestion that an idea is better because it is more moral is challenging and difficult to resist since no one wants to be seen as less moral or immoral. Suggestions such as “We all know right from wrong, and this is right” are emotionally difficult to deal with. 

A company should have a Plan B or a contingency plan to minimise risks related to groupthinkThe emotional consequences of groupthink can leave many of the members feeling disillusioned and dissatisfied. Enthusiasm can fade if you feel that you do not support a decision that has been taken by the group.  

business meeting - woman ceo

Creating a healthy group working environment helps to ensure that the group makes good decisions. Nominal Group Technique focuses on members independently  nominating priority issues, on a scale of, for example, 1 to 5.


nominal grouptechnique

Another method that could be used is the Delphi method. This method helps to structure the communication to ensure that consensus is achieved. Thus these methods try to prevent and minimise the impact of Groupthink.


It is called Delphi because some researchers assumed that the forecasts by the priests of the Delphi oracle basically were compilations of information the visitors from all over the known world brought in themselves.

Basically, it is not the best strategy to strive for consensus, but for dissent.


So encourage disagreement, difference of opinion, argument, dispute, disapproval, objection and protest over constructing consent and majority rule.

See also our earlier posts:



Key Performance (mis) Indicators


Key Performance Indicators are meant to keep an organisation on track. By measuring the performance over time, you are able to look at deviations and to take measures. As Wikipedia defines it: A  key performance indicator (KPI) is a type of performance measurement. An organization may use KPIs to evaluate its success, or to evaluate the success of a particular activity in which it is engaged. Sometimes success is defined in terms of making progress toward strategic goals, but often success is simply the repeated, periodic achievement of some level of operational goal (e.g. zero defects, 10/10 customer satisfaction, etc.).

The concept behind Key Performance Indicators is to build a feedback loop between input and output. Its working principle does not differ from a thermostat, which senses the temperature of a system so that the system’s temperature is maintained near a desired set-point.


In order to get not market driven organisations more efficient the adage “The numbers tell the tale”has become fashion among governments, institutions and not-for-profit companies. There are several metrics or key performance indicators.

However, Key Performance Indicators can also lead to perverse incentives and unintended consequences as a result of employees working to the specific measurements at the expense of the actual quality or value of their work. In the social sciencesunintended consequences (sometimes unanticipated consequences or unforeseen consequences) are outcomes that are not the ones intended by a purposeful action. Perverse incentives are a type of unintended consequence. A perverse incentive is an incentive that has an unintended and undesirable result which is contrary to the interests of the incentive makers.

There are a lot of examples of bad designed Key Performance Indicators. We came across, but not exhaustive:

  • Police officers get a predetermined quota of fines to give out. The unintended effect of this KPI that the police organisation will be focused on easy to obtain files, f.i. traffic fines instead of fighting serious crime;
  • An organisation involved in handling objections has a KPI for the amount of rejected complaints. Imagine how employees will approach complaints. . .
  • It is generally accepted that the progress of students is evaluated by tests. However, student tests assess only a small part of needed knowledge, skills and attitude of students. Also, often the purpose of the test, timely warning of learning difficulties and study delays, dilutes to “a (missed) ticket to the next hurdle”;
  • An agency of child protection is responsible for placing abused or emotional neglected children in foster parents and child care institutions. It is very logic to design a KPI: like the number of placed children. If this performance is coupled to the financing of the agency, it can easily lead  to placing children out of their home, against sound indications that there is no need for or against parents objections;
  • It is complete reasonable to expect higher efficiency and experience of surgeons as a hospital performs at least 30 knee surgery or angioplasty a year. However, such a KPI can lead to more instead of less knee surgery and angioplasty, an example of a perverse effect contrary to what was originally intended (an intended solution makes a problem worse);
  •  The selling of mortgages as an end in itself, even to people who could no pay the interest, led to the bank crisis in 2008. Another example of a negative, unexpected detriment occurring in addition to the desired effect of the policy to motivate sellers to do better their best.
  • To increase the efficiency of university studies universities are judged on the number of successful students per year. It is now tempting to reduce the requirements for passing exams.
  • In order to increase the efficiency of General Practitioners many assurance companies allow for not more than ten minutes consults by patients. This KPI leads to far more referrals to medical specialists because GP’s have not much time to carefully investigate the medical complaints. This is an example of a counterproductive KPI: it is more of an “obstacle” than a help in the achieving of a productive project or an objective;
  • Crews of warships run annual series of nautical and operational exercises. Through a complex multi-factor analysis, a KPI is derived: Operational Employ-ability. Members of Parliaments asked questions when the KPI decreased to 10%, as a warship was actually deployed in a crisis;
  • Notorious are budgets: the setting of expenditure levels for each of an organization’s functions. It expresses strategic plans of business units, organizations, activities or events in measurable terms. However, such budget tends to be exhausted at the end of the year, because organizational units realise that they will be shortened in budget for next year, because last year they needed not the full budget. So, as an example, in many towns you can observe that every five to ten years the same streets and squares are completely overhauled without any need but in order to use the full budget.

Many Key Performance Indicators have unintended effects. They function as rules for behavior. Key performance Indicators are designed to notice need for adjustments of the course of an organisation. However, more often than not, they are invitations to cheat, by employees but equally by companies and institutions,  especially when financial consequences are attached to the KPI.

Whenever designing or encountering a Key Performance Indication, be warned!


unintended consequences

For more examples of perverse incentives, see here. For examples of unintended consequences see here.

To built up your Thinkibility skills, imagine your are the director of a hospice. You have set a thinking task: how to improve the occupancy (KPI) of the hospice. Then check your answers with How Dying Became A Multibillion-Dollar Industry.



Before you say Yes or No


We are used to relying on our vision but according to IBM in the future the focus will be on broadening the perspective  developing capacities to mimic the ability to  smell, touch, taste and hear. Tiny sensors in the computer may detect if you are coming down with a cold by analysing your breath.

Many new ideas and suggestions are immediately rejected. Yet exploring new ideas and inventions is a great way to give your “creative muscles a workout”.  Imagine what it would feel like, smell like or sound like while you explore some of the ideas in the videos below. For tips about how to actively search for positive and negative aspects, look at our eBook.  Go here .


Go here to read about the Tableware by Jinhyon Jeon.

Black-and-White Background

How does black-and-white background influence our thinking?

Thinking is never neutral. Focusing our attention on different aspect is often more difficult than we imagine. Many “little” things can affect our thinking. A recent study suggests that if we see something on a black-white background it is harder for us to consider grey areas when we are solving moral dilemmas. It appears that our judgement becomes more black-and-white.

Simone Schnall and her colleagues found that when people rated a fictional  moral story their ratings were influenced by the colour of the border. The participants saw the tale next to a black-and-white checkerboard, grey, or yellow-and-blue checkerboard. There was no difference between the grey and coloured checkerboards. Stronger judgement against the man’s behaviour was made when they saw the black-and-white checkerboard.  They same pattern appeared when the participants were asked questions about moral and immoral behaviours or asked to make judgements about fairness. This research, which has not yet undergone peer-review, adds to other interesting finding such as the way holding a hot cup of tea or coffee in one hands influences our perception of a situation,

All this is fascinating; yet the interesting question is how to prevent us from letting the environment influence our thinking. A first step is to develop an awareness of how various aspects in our surroundings may influence later thinking. It is also vital to explore different techniques to help us stay focused on the task. We can take breaks to help us clear our minds when we switch our perception and direct our thinking to other aspects.

Would the result in the study change if the participants had been allowed small breaks between reading the story and answering the questions?. Or is it possible to change the result by informing them that the background may influence their thinking. While we are waiting for new results, we can always test some ideas ourselves. How much can we influence out thinking by thinking about possible factors that may have influenced our thinking. Is it easier to look for risks and dangers when we are looking out of the window and the rain is pouring down?  

Under the Six Hats Thinking framework as designed by Edward de Bono we select a metaphorical thinking Hat as a way of directing the attention to a certain aspect. Switching from wearing one metaphorical hat to another is difficult. Awareness and tricks need to be used to ensure that our thinking under the Blue Hat is not too optimistic if we previously used the Yellow Hat. It is deceptively easy to believe that Blue Hat thinking is neutral. Moreover, it is easy to believe that we are in fact making a “neutral” evaluation of the thinking. However, our thinking is influenced by previous thinking and our feelings. A possible method that can be used is to take a small break when switching from one metaphorical thinking Hat to the next. We can listen to some music, walk around in the room, or mediate for a couple of minutes.

Photo: “Pixel Point” by Salvatore Vuono

World Thinkers’ Ideas – Degrees of Impossibilites

Learning from history is difficult and often the same mistakes are repeated over and over again. And history has repeatedly shown that it is dangerous to say that some things are impossible.

To find a solution to any problem you have to believe that there is an answer. If you have lost your mobile phone in your house, you will search until you find it. If you ask yourself, “Is there a mobile phone in my house?” well, chances are that you will not search for long. The same idea should be used when we are trying to solve a problem, or are looking for a new idea. The perception that there is a solution means that we have to start looking we need to decide techniques where to look and how. In contrast, if we ask ourselves “Is there a solution?”  It is easy to give up an answer the question with “No there is not solution, it is impossible.”

Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist and the author of “Physics of the Impossible”, distinguishes between three different types of impossibilities. A hierarchy of impossibilities. Kaku says that Class 1 impossibilities are things that can be achieved in the near future. Today scientists are working on invisibility cloaks and there is optimism that it will soon be possible to make an object invisible. Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak may be a possibility within this century.

In contrast, Class 2 impossibilities are tricky and it may take thousands or millions of years to achieve. Often these types of   ideas require enormous amounts of energy and they require that we use physics that is little understood. Today, it may be impossible to build a time machine and it may not be possible this millennium. But declaring it as an impossibility is a different matter. Stephen Hawkins tried in the 1990s but he failed to prove that it is impossible to build a time machine.

The third type of impossibility violates known laws of physics. Some ideas can be truly impossible or we may have to discover some new laws of physics to make carry out the idea. Kaku suggests, that building a perpetual motion machine is a Class 3 impossibility.

In a subject such as physics, it may be easy to distinguish between different types of impossibilities, since it is possible to refer to the laws of physics. However, this idea can be applied to thinking about other subjects. Instead of saying that an idea is impossible it may be fruitful to explore why and to what degrees an idea is impossible.Is the idea that we can reduce the number of armed robberies with 99 percent, class 1 or 2 impossibility? How impossible is the idea with global citizens? And can we take all traffic signs away and still reduce the number of traffic accidents?

Photo: “Spheres Balance” by Danilo Rizzuti

New Groupthink


Fashion changes quickly. Admittedly, ideas about thinking may not change quite as rapidly, but you can nevertheless detect changes. Today, working together in teams is popular. The lone thinker is out of fashion. More brains mean more ideas.

Working together in a group, highlights the social nature of a project. Everyone will feel that he or she has contributed to the project. Discussions often continue to flourish in the hallways, or over lunch. However, the quality of the ideas and sorting out the ideas can be a bit of a nightmare.

It is interesting to explore why coming up with ideas should be a social process. After all, novelists and painters do not hold brainstorming meetings. They do not make long lists of ideas together. Also, many mangers come up with the best ideas in solitude, or when walking their dogs.

The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi suggests that we are more creative when our thoughts can flow free from interruptions. This view is based on the idea that creative people often are introverts. A focused mind helps to foster creativity and social interactions may disturb the creative process. Creating something is often a lonely process where the creator lives with the creation in their heads.

A thinking tool that can be useful to explore a subject is to do a PMI where you list Plus, Minus and Interesting aspects with an idea. Below is PMI on some comments that were added to an article about the New Groupthink by Susan Cain.

PMI on Groupthink

Some people work better in groups.
Facebook and Google use a flat organisation with group discussions.
Not every idea is creative and discussions in groups are valuable to evaluate ideas.
Creative people need to feel empowered by others.
Group work allows people to ask questions and explore ideas.

Some people do better on their own.
We have not been taught to work together in a group.
We bring with us bad habits about competing
Ideas are attacked before they are discussed.

Some people go both ways.
Forcing you makes you uninspired.
A creativity formula is uncreative.

PMI is an evaluation and assessing tool, which can help you to make better decision by taking into account more aspects regarding the situation. It prevents “jumping to conclusions“.Write first down as many positive aspects of the idea, or results of taking action during two minutes. Then write down every single negative aspect you can think of during two minutes.

Now we can escape from the Black/White assessment of the idea. The next two minutes we concentrate on aspects, which might be interesting, what might be happen or are Plus nor Minus. What is interesting to you may not be interesting to someone else. Yet, writing down interesting aspects and possibilities with an idea is a vital part of the PMI tool.

This tool can be used to make a decision where you for example put number values on the different aspects and add them together. Many people automatically do this in their heads. However, forcing yourself to write it down often helps to generate new aspects and ideas.

Photo: Hands Counting One To Five by MR LIGHTMAN

Negative Thinking

Challenging Negativity                                                                                                  

You are thinking negatively when you fear the future, or expect failure. Negative thinking damages confidence, and harms performance. A major problem is that negative thoughts tend to inhabit our minds and influence our thinking.

Challenging your own as well as an organisation’s negative thinking is important. The more you fire neurons in a certain way, the stronger the paths become as a result it gets more and more difficult to change  negative thinking pattern. It is easy to be caught in pessimistic thoughts and mental loops that tell us that there are no other possibilities.

Awareness that alternatives may exist make you more aware of the depths of the possibilities. We can be stuck by negative thoughts or mesmerised by the number of alternatives and directions that we can take. The idea to replace negative thoughts with new ways makes logical sense but it is not easy. The aim is to move forward in the thinking rather than explore the world in a negative manner. Finding faults should be done with the explicit goal to find new possibilities. Different tools and methods needs to be used to break negative thinking.

Dualistic Mind

Throughout our lives, we often try to explain and endure stress and anxiety by viewing our existence with a “dualistic mind.” We create a world of private duality, a world that is limited and fixed – to what in daily conversation is called – black and white thinking, or in the Six Hat Thinking framework, yellow and black. This way of thinking gives us a false sense of security and control over life’s uncertainties. Dualistic thinking makes us feel in control and it is easy to think that we do not have to search actively for other ways to describe the risks and concerns regarding a solution. For example, the solution is good or bad, strong or weak, and smart or stupid. This one-sided and inflexible thinking makes us ignore subtle degrees and variances.

Life is not neutral and few situations are either black or white. Or, in ou idiom, Black or Yellow Thinking.. Philosopher Alan Watts said, “Looking out into the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, or between well and badly arranged constellations.”

Dualistic Planets and Thinking

Earth is located in what is called the Goldilocks Zone. Water is crucial for life on Earth and without water, all living things would die. As far, as we know no life is possible without water. The conditions for life are right within the Goldilocks zone, the temperature is right.

If Earth was a dualistic planet and it moved towards Mars, the water would freeze. And if it moved towards Venus, it would evaporate. It would be difficult to maintain the habitable conditions on Earth if it was a dualistic planet.

The gravitational pull keeps Earth balanced in the Goldilocks Zone and by staying away from dualistic thinking, we can create our own Goldilocks Zone where things are neither good nor bad. By imagining a sun that keeps us in place from dualistic thinking, we can have a more balanced view of a situation. Identifying thinking as rational or irrational, balanced or imbalanced is a step that can make us less prone to react negatively.

Influence of Emotions and Feelings

Thinking, emotions, and behaviours intertwine very closely and each can change the others. What can you do to about counterproductive thought habits? Our thoughts are important to us in many ways. In many situations, success comes from repeatedly trying and from refusing to give up because of failure. Optimistic people tend to keep working and think success will eventually come, but pessimistic people often give up and make their poor expectations come true.

Three Feet from Gold

Watch the about a man who mines for gold and rare gems on the streets of New York.  There are pockets in the sidewalks that collect debris. It may look like dirt but this in the streets filled with jewellery shop the dirt is very, very valuable.

Industry workers covered in dust and when they walk away from their work, well, the dust falls into the cracks outside the shops. Over time, gold and platinum are pushed in this crack, and also the occasional diamond, or ruby.  Creating an opportunity from this dust, does not seem like sounds a bad idea after all. . .

Thinking pessimistically, feeling inadequate, and fearing inevitable rejection, you will probably talk and mingle very little with other people. Striving for new creative deals means to be brave but you also need to be brave when you explore eventual dangers and risks. Black Hat thinking according to the Six Hat Thinking framework is a vital component in the thinking process and you need to check that your conclusion follows from your evidence.

Can you really draw that conclusion? Do the facts fit in with the idea? Breaking habits and testing ideas takes the courage to embrace failure. Failure is a concept that is mostly used in a negative manner. We have failed to achieve or reach a certain target. The reason behind a failure needs to be explored and discussed. Is it counting as a failure if the result of a bad decision or other factors that could perhaps in hindsight have been foreseen.

Failure  and Presuccess

The word failure is a heavy word. You immediately want to avoid all the negative things associated with failure.  Many of us fear failure.  Failures are ignored and not discussed. It is as if it never has happened, yet, it changes dramatically the way people view you and the idea. But really it is just a word and it is what you attach to the word the counts. And more importantly, how you choose to act.

Photo: Splash Drop Realistic by Idea go