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:



Sub-boxing Everywhere

In all highly developed civilizations, we see a trend to more:

  • segmentation: division into segments
  • specialization: made or used for one particular purpose, job, place, etc.
  • differentiation: development from the one to the many, the simple to the complex, or the homogeneous to the heterogeneous
  • classification: a category into which something is put

You could say that products, jobs, scientific disciplines, processes, phenomena, etc are continually divided up into smaller parts or “conceptual boxes”. The consequence is that such societies become more complex: finding the right “box” and making choices are becoming increasingly laborous and burdensome.

Segmentation is one of the eight trends in TRIZ that predicts the future development of a system that could happen. Below some examples:

Sub-specialties of cardiology are developed along electrical properties of the heart, the use of ultrasound, catheters, and nuclear medicine.

In economics and marketing, product differentiation (or simply differentiation) is the process of distinguishing a product or service from others, to make it more attractive to a particular target market.

Some hundred years ago sport shoes were invented as an alternative of the rather rigid all-day-shoe of leather. Nowadays for nearly any sport there is a specialized shoe available, specifically designed for that sport.

Sometimes the further segmentation reaches to the point of absurdity:


Market segmentation is a marketing strategy which involves dividing a broad target market into subsets.


Segmentation has been one of the strongest strategies in marketing as it is traditionally practiced. If you enter a new category, you attempt to create a product that is distinct from those already there, by carving out a niche. However, segmentation is a more-of-the-same strategy and could be easily counterproductive because it is based on the existing products and markets. Instead of fighting over an ever decreasing fragment of a market, by transforming a product enough to make it suitable to satisfy new or different needs, it is possible to create a new market. It is called lateral marketing.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) offers a common language and standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders.The DSM-I, from 1952, listed 106; the DSM-III, from 1980, listed 265, and the current DSM-IV has 297 mental disorders. It means that over 5o% of all Americans will have a diagnosable mental illness in their lifetimes. It seems that “b0xing”and “sub-boxing” provoke their own dynamics, as explained in this interesting article: Abnormal is the New Normal by Robin S. Rosenberg


Brands – Thinkibility Nibble

It’s amazing how many people let themselves voluntarily be used as advertising boards by clothing manufacturers, yet at the same time, this is a  brilliantly designed ad campaign by  manufacturers.

The customers are not paid for showing the companies logo, they pay even more to be able to wear what is called “designer clothing”.

Amazing too is that so many people choose for their personal branding a logo that millions of other people also use for their personal branding:  the practice of people marketing themselves and their careers as brands. Or better said: people identify themselves with qualities of something outside themselves, projecting to others “Who Am I?”


That is amazing because many scientists pose that in Western cultures the self-concept place particular importance on independence and the expression of one’s own attributes (i.e. the self is more important than the group). It is even more surprising considering the deeds and misdeeds of Nike, The Gap, McDonald’s, Shell, and Microsoft – and of their lawyers, contractors, and advertising agencies.

Perhaps we should design social interventions: an orchestrated attempt to get someone to seek professional help with an addiction or some kind of traumatic event or crisis, or other serious problem.

Perhaps when we mingle in a social event, we could wear clothes inside out, as a statement:

Another possibility is to have no logo at all, or a “no logo”:

Perhaps you could design your own logo that expresses

  • The view you have of yourself (Self image: your answer to the question “What do you believe people think about you?”)
  • How much value you place on yourself (Self esteem or self-worth:  your beliefs about oneself like “I am competent”, “I am worthy”)
  • What you wish you were really like (Ideal self: a sense of self, based on spontaneous authentic experience, and a feeling of being alive, having a “real self”.)

Or to design anti-logos:

Another possibility: a logo that communicates your mood:

Or a logo that conveys a political view:



Out of Date Concepts – Thinkibility Nibble


Concepts occur in solid form and are often not questioned. After all, they have proved their worth and value. Concepts as an abstract or generic ideas, conceived in the mind, are generalized from particular instances. The more “solid” a concept appears the higher the chances are that the concept was conceived in the collective mind decades or ages ago.

Historically, marriages in most societies were arranged by parents and older relatives with the goal of legacy and economic stability and political alliances. So, the concept then was defined as a kind of business agreement, rather than something that involved love.  It is therefore  not surprising that a concept such as matchmaker – as the process of matching two or more people together for the purpose of marriage –  also got outdated.

In general, outdated concepts can be considered as originally adequate in the circumstances in which they were designed, but now hopelessly outdated because of the changed circumstances, be it economic, social, historical, technological, etc.

Schematically shown:

outdated concept.png

For example:  since we have reduced democracy to selecting representatives, and reduced representative democracy to mean simply voting, a valuable system is now mired in deep difficulties.

” In a referendum, we ask people directly what they think when they have not been obliged to think – although they have certainly been bombarded by every conceivable form of manipulation in the months leading up to the vote. But the problem is not confined to referendums: in an election, you may cast your vote, but you are also casting it away for the next few years. This system of delegation to an elected representative may have been necessary in the past – when communication was slow and information was limited – but it is completely out of touch with the way citizens interact with each other today.”

“This blind faith in the ballot box as the ultimate base on which popular sovereignty rests can be seen most vividly of all in international diplomacy. When western donor countries hope that countries ravaged by conflict – such as Congo, Iraq or Afghanistan – will become democracies, what they really mean is this: they must hold elections, preferably on the western model, with voting booths, ballot papers and ballot boxes; with parties, campaigns and coalitions; with lists of candidates, polling stations and sealing wax, just like we do. And then they will receive money from us.”

“Local democratic and proto-democratic institutions (village meetings, traditional conflict mediation or ancient jurisprudence) stand no chance. These things may have their value in encouraging a peaceful and collective discussion, but the money will be shut off unless our own tried-and-tested recipe is adhered to.”

Could we conceive alternative designs for  a system that would express the will of the people, as is the original idea behind the concept of democracy: a system of government in which all the people of a state are involved in making decisions about its affairs?

Look for some real interesting ideas in “Why elections are bad for democracy ” by David Van Reybrouck.

There are many concepts that have become outdated or soon will become. Can you think of any? And can you design any new concepts that can be used instead?

The West Wing of the Thinkibility University

west wing

The West Wing of the Thinkibility University – our exciting recent project – is dedicated to thinking patterns in sciences. At the West Wing, scientists dissect the basic thinking patterns in a scientific discipline.

Although philosophers of science will work there, the research agenda will not be philosophy of science – roughly this discipline is concerned with when we could claim that something might be true. Instead of exploring the relationship between science and truth scientists in the West Wing will focus on the paradigms of science or thought patterns, including theories, research methods, postulates, and standards for what constitutes legitimate contributions to a field. Thus, the focus is not on true/false claims.

Since we believe that science is basically the outcome of processes of human interaction, you will also find at the West Wing  sociologists, psychologists, political scientists and even anthropologists who explore people and their ancestors’ habits in relation to culture, and social and environmental factors.

However, besides classical education in traditional sciences, the people working at the West Wing will all have received thoroughly training in thinking theories. They will be skilled in Lateral Thinking, TRIZ, Anti Conventional Thinking, Biomimicry and several other disciplines and approaches that are slowly entering the body of knowledge about a rather significant feature of humans – thinking.

The main goal is not to describe the standard thinking in a scientific discipline, but to escape from it. To design alternative approaches for scientific development. The scientists  are involved in design thinking for scientific research.

A basic assumption that underlies the work a the West Wing is that most of the sciences nowadays are still ruled by a Newtonian view of balls and forces.

In an earlier post we argued that classical economy is a typical example of a science based on mechanical assumptions and by that, possible, totally inadequate. The scientific queeste of the department could be to explore if it is possible to base economic theories on system dynamics or quantum physics? Or even evolutionary biology? How could we design methods and techniques to escape from standard thinking in economic theory?

In Patterns in Psychological Research we provided another example of what could be an intermediate result of the Department for Psychology research. In Thinking Patterns in Science we gave even more examples such as for dominant thinking patterns in engineering systems. Another example of a dominant idea in brain research is that it would be located in the brain, while for more fruitful research it might better be assumed as an outcome of interactions between environment and the body, or even all body cells.

The objective of the West Wing research groups of the Thinkibility University will be to design alternative approaches for “doing science” in the classical sciences. The people working there will use systematic and deliberate creative thinking techniques to achieve the goals.They will offer alternative thinking strategies for  scientific disciplines.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if by escaping standard thinking strategies students at the West Wing of the Thinkibility University would generate new hypothesis in nearly every branch of science?


Guess what we will have in mind for the North, South and Eastern wings?

I Am a Depressive Character – You’re Absolutely Right

This post is about patterns or logical bubbles in psycho therapy. As we will see there are some parallels with lateral thinking.

lateral thinkingThere are several reasons why a person attends psychotherapy. Someone may attend psychotherapy because she is suffering because she thinks herself into a situation she doesn’t want to be in. She visits  a psychotherapist to get an alternative for her mental state. Or someone visits a therapist because he does something compulsively, and wants to get rid of that compulsory habit. We can represent this situation as someone being caught in a destructive thinking path, as show in the image as a road from A to B. The patient is looking for an escape to an alternative path to help them get into another thinking or behavioral habit. In the picture represented as side way C.

Some readers will recognize this as the way Edward de Bono explains main stream thinking and lateral or creative thinking. With main stream thinking we mean how  humans normally and routinely make sense of, interpret, represent or model the world they experience, and to make predictions about that world (A -> B). The thinking involved with discovering new inventions, coming up with new ideas and concepts and non-obvious alternatives need breaking away from standard thinking patterns (A -> C)


An assumption in psychotherapy is that the therapist has to diagnose the patient before a treatment plan can be made. In order to do that the therapist will delve into patient’s past, his problems, how he solved them, and how he digests uncomfortable feelings and emotions. Psychotherapists must be  ood active listener: re-stating or paraphrasing what they have heard in their own words, encouraging the patient to express feelings, showing complete understanding and empathy.The therapist is responsible for a solution. That solution is per definition outside the standard thinking or behavioral patterns of the patient, so a big challenge is the acceptation of therapist’s solution by the patient. If he doesn’t do that, the therapist is not professional enough. This phenomenon is called psychological resistance  in which patients either directly or indirectly oppose changing their behavior or refuse to discuss, remember, or think about presumably clinically relevant experiences.

Everyone who ever ventilated a breakthrough idea – an idea outside accepted thinking – will recognize this mechanism. It is rejection and you will have to come up with a better idea, That is why much therapy processes takes years. The patient refuses to alter his thinking, so the therapist is forced to make a better diagnose. Both patient as therapist are caught in a perpetual pattern in which the patient does not want to leave his comfort zone, a behavioral state within he operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviors to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk.


Does this remind you of a situation in which you do want to come up with fresh ideas, and you are trying and trying, erring in circles with no results? You are still in main-stream thinking (A->B).

An alternative to classical psycho therapy is Provocative Therapy, invented by Frank Farrelly which advocates radical (and sometimes humorous therapeutic moves intended to jolt the client out of his current mindset.

That is exactly what lateral thinking also is about. To escape from taken for granted thinking to alternative perceptions by deliberately setting up Provocations.

Imagine, someone tells you that she is depressed. Normally you would comfort her, you would do your best to cheer her up, give her a fresh look on the situation or just show empathy. But what if you respond that she is absolutely right and perhaps still far too cheerful? What would happen?

Regarding Jeffrey Wijnberg there are some rules that form the basis of Provocative Psycho Therapy. As you will notice, these are radical different as what therapists usually do:

  1. The therapist gets an equal speaking time as the client;
  2. The therapy starts immediately as the patient enters the clinic;
  3. The therapist uses deliberately no structure during the talks;
  4. The therapist never use hands solutions;
  5. The therapist tries to get in the “laughing state”as soon and well as possible;
  6. The therapist don’t prepare the sessions, but transfers that task to the client;
  7. The therapist uses a (played) pessimistic attitude;
  8. The therapist understands little or nothing of the deeper meanings of what the client tells him;
  9. The therapist is paradoxical in his communication: non-verbal he is signalling warmth, passion, empathy) but verbally he is critical, provocative (doubt, challenging, incomprehension);
  10. The therapist says whatever comes to him.

Please note, it is vital to create a “safe container” when using Provocative Therapy. The work is carried out in an environment designed to be positive, there is a regard for the client and a belief in their capacity for change.


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.