28 Jan 2012

Groupthink: The nurseries of mediocrity

There's a thought-provoking article titled "The Rise of the New Groupthink" at The New York Times' The Opinion Pages.

Groupthink, which one could possibly define as being contrained by consensus-seeking, usually ends up in action that's based on what passes the lowest common dinominator... What everyone "agrees on" / is "comfortable with".

The morale-sapping cube-farms - the nurseries of mediocrity - are everywhere...

The New Groupthink has overtaken our workplaces, our schools and our religious institutions. Anyone who has ever needed noise-canceling headphones in her own office or marked an online calendar with a fake meeting in order to escape yet another real one knows what I’m talking about.

Groupthink prevents truly creative outcomes because there is little room for personal intuition, initiative or inventiveness if it cannot muster enough 'ayes'! At the same time, the Groupthink environment is ideal for process-fiends zealously following the minutest rules largely blind (or ignorant) of the greater scope of their work - and contributing little of actual value. And it is a favoured refuge for those who hide behind the group to escape personal accountability.

One creative genius - the inventive half of erstwhile Apple Computers - Steve Wozniak, was an introvert seeking solitude for "the sheer hard work of creating something from nothing". He often worked alone, late in the night.

The article says,
In his memoir, Mr. Wozniak offers this guidance to aspiring inventors:

“Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me ... they live in their heads. They’re almost like artists. In fact, the very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone .... I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: Work alone... Not on a committee. Not on a team.”

Of course, teamwork is a good thing when two or more individuals get together to do what each is best at. There the capabilities are multiplied, while each one's accountibility in the outcome remains equal.

The article quotes Organisational Psychologist, Adrian Furnham...
“If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.”

So the key priority, then, for all organisations must be to consciously acquire talented people, keep them motivated - and allow them the freedom to do things on their own.

That's 'HR 101' - and easier said than done...

Another point occured to me... And that is the Risk vs. Reward paradigm - or 'incentivisation' in a Groupthink environment.

I believe that every action we choose to take is driven, consciously or unconsciously, by the inherent risk vs. the potential reward embedded in that action.

In an individual-centred environment, an employee works with 'X' amount of quantified risk (cost of failure). And an incentive, 'Y', which is the potential reward or recognition attached to a successful outcome. For an individual working alone, risk is more or less limited to starting again (i.e. mostly, lost time), whereas reward has no such obvious constraint.

So independent workers, in theory at least, are likely to take risk more often in order to maximise their rewards.

In a Groupthink environment, employees still work with 'X' amount of quantified risk (mostly, lost time) - but now MULTIPLIED by the size of the group. And their incentive 'Y' is now DIVIDED by the size of the group!

So obviously Groupthink members are likely to - in my humble conclusion - work assiduously to avoid failure since it would mean considerable total lost time, and they will also be less motivated by the reward because it is probably not in directly proportion to input.

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