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:



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?

25 Creative Ideas to Reuse – Thinkibility Nibble

Besides the practical, economical and ecological advantages of reusing obsolete things, it is good brain workout to give yourself the instruction:

25 Creative Ideas To Reuse …


The amount of required ideas is important to avoid too obvious ideas. Try to make twenty-five at least.

If you don’t believe this is possible, look at these examples:

and in general: Old Things

Isn’t it astonishing to see how obsolete things can be redesigned for continued use?

You can even earn money with Ideas for Reuse. A large shoe manufacturer wants to start a new, ongoing consumer behavior where at the end of a shoe’s useful life, the consumer returns their used shoes to the company from which they bought them.

The challenge is to propose a new business model, engagement model or incentives that would compel a consumer to return their shoes to the company they bought them from, as a part of a premium or enhanced consumer experience.

The solution must be part of a premium or enhanced consumer experience, and must increase the competitive value of the product or purchasing experience (i.e. not just a simple “pay people for the shoes” or recycling program)

A well-defined creative task. For more information see The Returning Used Shoe Contest.

used shoes

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.



Creative Data Collection

Data collection is the process of gathering and  measuring variables of interest, in an established systematic fashion that enables you to answer stated research questions, test hypotheses, and evaluate outcomes. The goal for all data collection is to capture quality evidence that then translates to rich data analysis and allows the building of a convincing and credible answers to questions that have been posed.


However, many research and policy are based on already available information that do  not necessarily fit to the issue or question. For instance, the average income of residents in a district is estimated at the average market value of homes. Suppose there are some big villas in a district. However,  the houses are rented to migrant workers who sleep with twelve persons in a room. Actually, the district has poor inhabitants and impoverishment is lurking. A better measure of prosperity in a district could be the amount of call shops, Travelex foreign exchange bureaus or percentage windows with bed sheets as curtains or without curtains at all. 

Perhaps we could use data of the local supermarkets to assess the risk of impoverish of a district, not only by sales volume, but also the kind of products consumers buy. Income groups differ in the food they buy. Supermarkets may have more or less variety in products they offer, regarding the population.


This could lead to a Reverse Open Data movement, where businesses make their data available for town halls to design social and economic policies. Open Data is a movement that  open data should enable third parties to leverage the potential of government data through the development of applications and services that address public and private demands. This information exchange could be made two-sided.

Perhaps we could measure the level of civilization of a nation by registering the percentage of cars that don’t stop for a pedestrian at a pedestrian crossing (a zebra crossing).

big mac

Another example is the Big Mac Index, a creative alternative to determine exchange rates, the rate at which one currency will be exchanged for another. It is based on the concept that a Big Mac is highly standardized all over the world. The difference in selling price in country A compared with the selling price of a Big Mac in country B gives a better idea of the value of the two currencies relative to each other.


Maybe we can say something about the tendency to conformity by counting people who wear clothes of a specific brand. Or determine the percentage women that is involved in street sweeping.


It’s hard to get solid data on drug usage, because it’s traditionally gathered via questionnaires. Respondents can fudge the answers or forget details. Drug users also sometimes don’t know what they are really taking or whether other drugs are mixed in. However, the laboratory analysis of waste water has the potential to get more accurate results more quickly, as a recent study showed that cities’ sewer water exposes use of cocaine, cannabis, meth and ecstasy.


It is interesting to roam in a town and create some mini theories that explain what is observed, compared with another town. For instance:

  • There are substantially more gulls and open torn garbage bags ;
  • Advertising is everywhere and very blatant;
  • There is a lot of green space and many squares;
  • All doors and window frames are painted in the same color;
  • There are many pizzerias.

What does it mean? Or what does it explain? Can you quantify the phenomena and turn them into meaningful data?


Contradictions and Agression – Thinkibility Boost

Ever had an undefined feeling that something is wrong? That there is something  that does not make sense but “you can’t put the finger on it”?  You have this tingling feeling but you can’t point to exactly what it is. . . yet you know that there is “something”. It’s intangible knowledge or understanding, and you are not able to ‘touch’ the intuition that supports the understanding. Look at this:


Ten to one a contradiction might be involved. A contradiction is something that is opposite or very different in meaning to something else. Or there is a difference or disagreement between two things which means that both cannot be true.  Or someone is doing things that could not be interpreted unequivocally, because it could mean different, contradicting things. Or things are said that could not be “true” and “not true” at the same time. They contradict each other.

 A contradiction could even lead to a double bind, which is a stressful situation where regardless of your response you will automatically be wrong. “Do you still beat your wife?” . If you say yes, you are a bastard. If you say no, you admit that you have beaten her before, so you are a bastard.

Because the meaning of the communication cannot be clearly understood, vague feelings of unhappiness, uneasiness and uncertainty could be provoked. You can even feel anger, resentment and frustration.  The body reacts to the unequivocal messages. Unfortunately, the underlying reason for these feelings and emotions  are unconscious.

We can use a range of strategies to dissolve cognitive dissonance but basically it comes down on avoiding or even ignoring contradicting situations and information. Often our bodily signals will be suppressed  in order to restore consistency, which can lead to  psychosomatic symptoms like headaches, heart attacks and back pains.

However, we suggest to give carefully attention to signals you body gives you if it is confronted with contradictions, however unconsciously those will be received. If suddenly experiencing angry, uneasiness, frustration or a bad feeling in your stomach, the following inconsistencies could have happen:

  • there is an inconsistency between verbal and non-verbal communication – someone says “yes” but nods “no”
  • there is a discrepancy in someone’s behavior  – someone says that he will come in time  but he doesn’t
  • there could be a contradiction between the content of a dialogue and the subtext (the content underneath the spoken dialogue). When we are talking or writing to someone  there can be conflict, angercompetitionpride, showing off, or other implicit ideas and emotions that  contradicts what is said. “Well done”, she said sarcastically.
  • nonsense and no-nonsense could have been used in the same phrase, as well logical and illogical arguments or a contradiction. “The situation is hopeless, but not serious”.
  • A paradox – a statement that apparently contradicts itself and yet might be true. “Don’t believe me, I am a liar”. A paradox may contain an non-executable order. “The barber is a man in town who shaves all those, and only those, men in town who do not shave themselves.” However, this causes an impossibility for the barber, because who will shave him? On-going paradoxical messages could be ruined the development of mental health.  A mother has given her child two shirts, but when she wears one of the shirts, she says; “didn’t you like the other one?”. Or a female politician  who is encouraged to look beautiful and then is commented as being not a serious politician since she wears lipstick. There are many paradoxes like “any pilot requesting mental evaluation for insanity—hoping to be found not sane enough to fly and thereby escape dangerous missions—demonstrates his own sanity in making the request and thus cannot be declared insane”. Catch-22 is a logical paradox where the creators have made up arbitrary rules in order to justify and conceal their own abuse of power. In the works of Kafka also many examples of catch-22 situations can be found. A list of know paradoxes can be found here.


In the picture above you see the Monty Hall problem, which steams from a situation that may occur on TV game shows. It is a type of probability  puzzle. What should you do?

“Suppose you’re on a game show, and you’re given the choice of three doors: Behind one door is a car; behind the others, goats. You pick a door, say No. 1, and the host, who knows what’s behind the doors, opens another door, say No. 3, which has a goat. He then says to you, “Do you want to pick door No. 2?” Is it to your advantage to switch your choice?”

Vos Savant’s response was:

“Yes; you should switch. The first door has a 1/3 chance of winning, but the second door has a 2/3 chance. Here’s a good way to visualize what happened. Suppose there are a million doors, and you pick door #1. Then the host, who knows what’s behind the doors and will always avoid the one with the prize, opens them all except door #777,777. You’d switch to that door pretty fast, wouldn’t you?”

  • Another contradiction presents itself as when there are two possibilities, neither of which is acceptable. A father to his son: “Will you forward or backwards climb the stair to go to bed?” This is called a dilemma.
  • There is a discrepancy between what is verbally said and what is implicitly said about the relation the messenger wants to establish or maintain. “Yes, sure, I love you”, he said while continuing waking towards  the fridge to get a beer.


Contradictions, if not noticed, can lead to feelings of desperate powerlessness and furious destructive aggression.

However, contradictions, if not neglected, are powerful triggers to reflect on a situation and extract information from it. Attention to feelings and bodily signs are the clues to this.

Why I am so angry?

Why do I feel so uncertain of myself?

Where does  that aggression so suddenly come from?

There could be contradictions around!