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Groupthink

Groupthink was coined by social psychologist Irving Janis. Groupthink occurs when a group of people cherishes accord and harmony over accurate data or analysis of a given issue. In this article, I examine groupthink from a historical perspective that occurs at the onset of World War Two.

Groupthink can deleteriously impact a group chance for long-term success.

Irving Janis believed there are eight symptoms associated with groupthink. The eight symptoms of groupthink are invulnerability, rationale, morality, stereotypes, pressures, self-censorship, unanimity, mind-guards.

One historical example of groupthink occurred within the French general staff in 1940. In the aftermath of WW1, France is obsessed with creating a perfect defensive cauldron to deter invasions from its enemies called the Maginot line. In the interwar years, France becomes complacent about its safe from invasion with the Maginot line. France desires peace at all costs as the 1930s begin in Europe. However, the rise of two socialist countries, Italy and Germany, begins to create storm clouds of a future conflict. Further, Germany feels wronged by the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles. Germany begins rearmament in secret, and the allies try to appease Germany to avoid war on the European continent. The German rearmament raises alarm bells in, the French military officer corp.

The French general staff is aware of the dangers Germany poses but is incapable of contemplating the power of blitzkrieg. The French general staff expects a repeat of WW1 trench warfare, but the German general staff is planning blitzkrieg to defeat the Maginot line. In May of 1940, Germany invades through Belgium and the Maginot line is skirted by the German army. Dunkirk. France suffers one of the greatest defeats in military history. Many historians believe the French general staff was rendered inert by groupthink.

Simply put, the lessons of WW1, were entrenched in the minds and military doctrine of the French general staff. Their critical mistake is believing in the infallibility of the Maginot line. Numerous observers expressed grave concerns about only relying on defensive preparations for war with Germany. The French general staff dismissed those observer’s concerns that in the end, we’re prophetic.

How can organizations mitigate the deleterious effect of groupthink?

One tip is to have a group member play the role of Devil’s advocate. Give the members of the group equal time to discuss their opinions on the topic with no interruption. One key tip is scheduling the group meetings at different places and times. The adage familiarity breeds contempt often exists in groups afflicted by groupthink.

Phillip D'Amato
Phillip D'Amato
Phillip D ‘Amato is an echocardiographer who has a passion for writing and for reading classic literature. I have worked in the field of non-invasive cardiology for twenty-five years. I enjoy studying history and am committed to preserving the environment for future generations. I write primarily about technology and other diverse fields on social media. I am working on e-publishing a sci-fi anthology series in the near future. Please feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn and here.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Great article Phillip. Group think limits creativity and innovation. I was working with a financial institution that was struggling to secure business from people 35 and younger. When I asked the CEO for his thoughts on this matter he told me, “When I look at my management time all I see are old, fat, bald, white men. We went to the same schools, belong to the same clubs, attend the same church, and go to the same parties. We can finish each others sentences. At one point I thought this was good, but this group think will kill us long term”. Meaningful dialogue comes from diversity in age, race, culture, gender, etc. provides new, different and fresh ideas.

  2. A worthy topic, Phillip.
    In slightly more modern times it is supposed that the Cuba Crisis also held strong elements of group think among Robert McNamara and the Whiz Kids.

    Although I am always happy to play Devil’s Advocate, if the group generally consists of the same people, it is important that the role moves around. Even if everybody agrees that this is an important role, it is too easy to pigeon hole somebody as the perpetual nay sayer if it always falls to the same person to be critical.

    Today, the more obvious solution is to assure that groups have members with diverse backgrounds and perspectives.

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