It’s the Wisdom of Individuals First (not Groups)

Monday, November 7th, 2011

I just read a helpful reminder about the limitations of groups on decision making.  (Why Brainstorming Doesn’t Always Work. Jena McGregor. The Washington Post 11/6/11)

It’s pretty common for a group to meet and someone asks, “Any ideas on how we should proceed?” This sounds like a good thing to do. It is inclusive. It shows that the boss wants to hear your ideas. And we tend to believe that these open discussions encourage a wide range of ideas. Unfortunately, diversity of opinion is the very thing that suffers during these meetings. When groups try to generate ideas, they seem to “get stuck on each other’s ideas.”

In a recent study, researchers looked at the number and diversity of opinion when people were asked for ideas. Those who worked alone “outperformed the real chat groups, both with the number of ideas and the diversity of them.” A second group of people who received a few cues from others did less well. And groups that met to generate ideas did the worst.

The research indicates that people should think about ideas on their own and then get together to discuss them.

If my experience is any indication of what’s going on in many organizations, we seem to have forgotten the importance of Irving Janis’ Groupthink. The timing of McGregor’s article (see link above) is great. I am about to be part of a planning process for an organization I care deeply about. Thanks to that article, I am going to suggest that we all do some thinking alone before we meet to develop plans.

What are your ideas for addressing the dilemma of wanting to get people involved and avoiding the pitfalls of trying to make decisions in groups? Please comment. (operators are standing by)

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