20 Mar 2010

Group-think on the Serengeti

Last week, I chanced up on a wonderfully informative and insightful blog by Mark Sigal (a successful serial-entrepreneur). There I stumbled on yet another insightful experience.

It is the 15-minute clip (below) of an interview on CBS' '60 Minutes'. A very well-spent 15 minutes, I must say. It starts out as a postmortem of the seemingly unbridled greed on Wall Street, which preceded the recent subprime-led financial crisis.

Michael Lewis, a brilliant author and thinker (he wrote Blind Side which won an 2010 Oscar for Sandra Bullock) speaking about his latest book, 'The Big Short', dissects the crisis and recount the stories of a dozen or so regular investors who saw the Wall Street emperors' naked folly way back in frenzied heydays of 2005. To them, it was obvious that the subprime bonanza was going to crash... and it seemed unbelievable that none of the financial wizards on Wall Street seemed to notice! (So they speculated against the Wall Street, and made bucket-loads of money... An autistic one-eyed gentleman made $750 million and change. As profit!)

Then I heard something that sounded to me as like the profound truth of corporate culture that was at the heart of it all!

The blinding power of group-think

If Wall Street's lemming-like actions defied logic, perhaps logic does not apply when something becomes "the way things are done here". What blinded them was not greed - but group-think!

For Wildebeest on the Serengeti, a mega-herd offers security, but takes away the relevance of individuals. Huge corporate entities employing multiple thousands function much the same way. In order to achieve a vague corporate (common) goal (fresh grass), the average employee has just two choices: Join the herd or face the lions!

In that sense, as the corporate world hurtles towards the next inevitable crisis, (you must watch the video!) smaller, more nimble businesses are better positioned to course correct - (to milk the Serengeti analogy dry) like a pride of lions capable of changing their target easily. But success is most certain when each member can see the target, and knows where other members are relative to it!

Watch CBS News Videos Online

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