Impasse, Intransigence and Idiocy! Has anyone ever heard of Group Think?

Welcome to my blog. I read in the papers this week that the UK (that would be you and me then!) had expected our esteemed politicians to return from their two-week Easter Break having cogitated and ruminated on how to break the current political impasse.  An expectation that views would have softened, minds newly opened to new ways to approach the situation.

Ha! Not surprisingly, nothing has changed. No minds have been opened and intransigence is once more the dominating stance.

In this case we are talking Brexit, but the same could be said about many board decisions, team decisions, creative decisions etc. in the workplace.  Could intransigence and idiocy be damaging your business?

 

Who is right and who is wrong?

On topic, but side-swerving just a little, I met a guy recently who has given me some insight into a different way of thinking from my own.  Over dinner he pronounced that now that no one believes in God, we need a different approach/literature from understanding what is right and what is wrong. He also pronounced that it has only been in the past 500 years that people have been fixated on building wealth (mmm…Roman Empire came to mind). Another announcement of his was that without classical literature in our lives we will all be left with no imagination or creativity (mmm…not sure Game of Thrones creators would agree). I could go on, but I’m guessing you get the picture…a determined young man who, in my opinion, has very narrow views about and understanding of the world.  He was aggressive though when I challenged him on some of his thinking. Interestingly he viewed our discussion as a debate to be won or lost. I viewed it as an opportunity to hear and learn.

If I was a doctor, I would probably diagnose he is suffering from a combination of complaints including naivety, arrogance, a lack of emotional intelligence and Group Think delusion! Of course, I was probably the same at his age!

Putting aside the naivety, arrogance and low emotional intelligence I observed, as those may lessen over time (he’s only in his early 20’s at present),  let me focus on Group Think as that is one big bad ugly SoB that is preventing so much sensible discussion and debate in the UK on the important issues of our time.

 

Group Think

Let me draw on a blog I wrote on Group Think a few years ago.

To outsiders, Group Think is about delusion, total utter delusion about what is or is not moral, right, appropriate or fair etc. To Group Think insiders, Group Think is about mutual agreement, mutual understanding, mutual support, a shared vision and/or passion.

Both groups polarised by the thinking that ‘they are right, whilst others are wrong’. Ring any bells?

In this case, as a Group Think outsider, I was informed that ‘no one believes in God anymore’ which I know is not an accurate statement given that many of my friends and acquaintances believe in God. The person telling me that no one believes in God, in this case is the Group Think insider who has surrounded himself with people who are of the same view as him, no one challenging the statement and thereby giving the impression that it must be true. In fact, he looked shocked when I told him that he was wrong in saying no one believes in God anymore.

Why did he look shocked? How could he not know that? He has just spent 3 years at university presumably living and studying with a wide range of people?

Or perhaps he hasn’t?

Perhaps on day one he started hunting down his ‘tribe’. His tribe being those who think, believe and act the same as him. And, in his hunting, anyone who didn’t fit into his ‘tribe’ were not only excluded, but simply rendered invisible. Their thoughts, ideas, beliefs genuinely not being heard by him in his search for those who confirmed his own thinking.

For the recruiters, police, HR, researchers, investigators amongst you some of you will recognise this as Confirmation Bias. We are all subject to confirmation bias whether we admit to it or not. No one is immune…the good, bad, old, young, educated or non-educated amongst us. It’s really hard to avoid confirmation bias impacting our thinking or decision making, especially if those we meet who would contradict it are simply ‘invisible’ to us.

If a personal belief is that the older generations have no technology skills, then we will likely ignore or fail to register the first 5 ‘older’ people we meet who are in fact pretty clued up with technology, but the 6th person we meet who is in fact a total non-starter when it comes to technology will enable us to say to ourselves ‘see, I was right, all older people are useless with technology.’

You might not like my example or feel able to admit that you do this as much as the rest of us, but it is what it is. But let me give another example. Going back to my dinner companion, if a personal belief is that ‘no one believes in God’, you might choose to go through your life ignoring anyone who says they do believe in God, instead suggesting to them (or yourself) that they aren’t educated, or they are deluded, acting illogically or behaving irrationally or even telling yourself they have been brainwashed or indoctrinated. You deny their beliefs as genuine beliefs and in this way you confirm to yourself that no one really believes in God.

I think a few thoughts about deluded, acting illogically, behaving irrationally, they’re brainwashed, indoctrinated etc. has given some individuals across the past 3 years the sense that those who hold a different view to themselves on Brexit are simply wrong. They’ve explained it away in their own heads.

As I said above, as humans we are all very good at doing this and at siphoning out what doesn’t fit our own world and thinking. But that reminds me of a quote I put in another blog:

 

“Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups”.

(George Carlin)

 

And before you go off on one, let me explain what I mean by ‘stupid’ as the past few years have been far too full of people slating others for being ‘stupid’.

Interestingly, Group Think can be perpetuated by anyone and everyone however, it is often perpetuated by highly intelligent and/or well-educated people. (The young lad I was dining with had just graduated from Oxford and is clearly highly intelligent). I have also seen it perpetuated by those I would consider highly moral people and people with strong values. Those who could be, and perhaps should be, the pillars of our society.  But the ‘stupidity’ occurs when those people all band together and then eliminate from the group those who do not, or who are not seen to, fit in. It’s the exclusion or suppression of those who do not think alike that creates Group Think and causes ‘stupidity’. It’s got nothing whatsoever to do with intellect or level of education.

There have been some concerns that many academic establishments have been excluding or suppressing the views of people who do not agree with the prevailing thoughts on topics such as transgender, free speech, colonialism etc. the more you exclude or suppress other/different thinking the more you are creating the perfect environment for very dangerous Group Think.

There is another great quote used in my earlier blog and I will make no apology for using it again now: ‘When all think alike, then no one is thinking’. (Walter Lippman). My young graduate looked shocked when I said that there were many people who do still believe in God. Had he really spent so much time with like minded people that no one ever challenged their views and understanding of the world? That’s so dangerous.

So, coming back to Brexit what has happened and why has the Easter Break softened no one or brought greater clarity of thinking?

Let me ask you who you spent Easter with yourself? Family, friends? How many families and groups of friends are there who all have similar backgrounds and levels of education, similar financial standing, similar family groupings, same car, same dog, same clothes, same leisure interests etc. I even know one social group where all 5 wives/partners look identical with their figures, hair colour, hair style and clothes and shoes! They even do Pilates and yoga together and live at the same end of the same village! The more similar the people are who you mix with, the less likely anyone in that group will encourage you to rethink your stance on an issue. They will just agree with the stance you have taken and confirm you are right and should, by any chance, anyone disagree they will be rapidly sidelined from the group unless they agree to conform with group thinking and group behaviours.

So what our politicians needed at Easter if the impasse was to be overcome, was the equivalent of a school swap (recent TV programme where a number of pupils from two culturally very different schools swapped schools) or a house swap where rich and poor families get a taste of the other’s lives for a bit (Rich House Poor House) or a cultural swap where rich kids live with a poorer family to learn about poverty (Rich Kids go Skint). What they didn’t need was to spend more time with like minded people who would just reassure them that their current beliefs were the right ones!

But I’m in business and you’re in business so let’s forget politics and social chaos and reflect on what pays our salaries…which teams in your organisation steamroller others due to a collective belief that they have all the answers? Where is Group Think preventing new thinking and ideas in your team? And most importantly who did you spend Easter with? Is your own circle varied enough for you to escape the Group Think clutches or are you in danger of become as intransigent about world/social issues and politics as our politicians?

I’d love to hear your comments and thoughts!

 

A personal note…the training I deliver on group think is often included in my diversity and inclusion training, unconscious bias workshops and gender intelligence seminars. If you are interested in exploring any of these issues please do get in touch.  

 

This is a personal blog written by Helen Jamieson. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Jaluch Ltd. The views and opinions posted in response to this blog are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily represent those of Helen Jamieson or Jaluch Ltd. Jaluch Ltd is not responsible for the accuracy of the information within this blog.

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