Groupthink Theory

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As people, when confronted with a problem where a solution must be found, our ideal situation is to come up with the best possible one. To do this, we ideally gather the most knowledgeable, intelligent individuals into a group and attempt to derive the best solution to the problem. With the collection of these people, one would think that finding the best possible answer to the problem would be a rather simple task. However, what has happened in many situations is the complete opposite. Rather than finding the best possible solutions, many ideal, cohesive groups arrive at the worst possible answer largely due to problems in communication within the group. This is what we call the radical theory of ‘groupthink’. When groupthink occurs, it can lead to poor decision-making and lack of creativity and as a result, lead to severe consequences. It is important that groups be aware of the symptoms of groupthink in order reduce the chances of negative outcomes.

Groupthink is defined as “the mode of thinking that persons engage in when concurrence-seeking becomes so dominant in a cohesive in-group that it tends to override realistic appraisal of alternative courses of action” (Irving Janis, 1972). More simply put, groups who are affected by groupthink ignore other alternatives. Together, the members try and minimize conflict, thereby reaching consensus, without truly analyzing, studying and evaluating different ideas. In search of group cohesiveness, things such as individuality and creativity tend to disappear into the crowd. Rather than bringing new and different ideas to the table, group members avoid giving an opinion that would be considered to rest outside of the group’s comfort zone. "What's really angering about instructions of this sort is that they imply there's only one way to put this rotisserie together - their way. And that presumption wipes out all the creativity. Actually there are hundreds of ways to put the rotisserie together and when they make you follow just one way without showing you the overall problem, the instructions become hard to follow in such a way as not to make mistakes. You lose the feeling for the work” (Pirsig, 166). When seeking solutions to a problem, there can be hundreds of possible ways to solve it. However, because of the lack of creativity, individuality and conflict that arises due to groupthink, only one of those solutions is seriously taken into consideration. Unfortunately, the final solution is not always the best one.

In 1972, Yale psychologist Irving Janis attended a seminar on small groups at Yale University. After reading about the Bay of Pigs fiasco, Janis was troubled at the idea that a group of intelligent, well-educated individuals, who included John F. Kennedy and his advisors, allowed themselves to create such a plan. Later on, Irving Janis studied significant events; such as the failure to protect Pearl Harbor, in order to further investigate the topic of groupthink.

Decision-making can be seen all around us. Whether it is in the business world or deciding what to make for dinner, we are forced to make choices. Typically, making decisions follows a 6-step process. The steps involved in making a decision are as follows: • Identify the problem or opportunity

• Gather relevant information
• Develop as many alternatives as possible
• Evaluate alternatives to decide which is best
• Decide on and implement the best alternative
• Follow-up on the decision
We must keep in mind, however, that making an individual decision is much different than making one in groups. With group decision-making comes social interaction and social, psychological and contextual influences. These things alone call for many advantages and disadvantages, one advantage being that there are more opinions and more input because of the number of people. Therefore, more solutions to the initial...
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