Are we succumbing to "groupthink" in cohousing?
From: Norm Gauss (normangauss11comcast.net)
Date: Wed, 14 Jul 2004 23:11:12 -0700 (PDT)
An Excerpt from:
July 10, 2004
SENATE INTELLIGENCE REPORT
Groupthink Viewed as Culprit in Move to War
By Vicki Kemper, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Irving Janis, a Yale psychologist, coined the term "groupthink" in 1972 to
describe a decision-making process in which officials are so wedded to the
same assumptions and beliefs that they ignore, discount or even ridicule
information to the contrary. When members of a cohesive, homogeneous group
value unanimity and agreement on one course of action more than a realistic
appraisal of alternatives, they are engaging in groupthink.

Experts said Friday that while groupthink was not entirely responsible for
the acceptance of faulty intelligence information on Iraq, the Bush
administration was, by design, particularly susceptible to that risky style
of decision-making.

"Groupthink is more likely to arise when there is a strong premium on
loyalty and when there is not a lot of intellectual range or diversity
within a decision-making body," said Stephen M. Walt, academic dean of
Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. "The Bush administration
has been an unusually secretive group of like-minded people where a very
high premium is placed on loyalty."

All organizations and administrations face the same risk, Walt said. He
added that while the report specifically indicted the intelligence
community, others - including Democratic lawmakers and the media - also
failed to challenge basic assumptions about Iraq's weapons capability.

"When a president makes a decision about something, there is a tendency to
get on the train rather than throwing yourself in front of it," he said.
"Whatever Bush's flaws may be, indecision is not one of them."

The commonly cited "symptoms" of groupthink are a fundamental overconfidence
that gives members an illusion of invulnerability and a belief in the
inherent morality of the group.

The groupthink dynamic also is characterized by a pressure to conform that
often leads group members with different ideas to censor themselves. But
groupthink is most likely to occur when all or most members of a group share
the same views.

In that sense, it is the opposite of collective wisdom, said James
Surowiecki, a financial writer for the New Yorker and author of the recent
book, "The Wisdom of Crowds."

"What's really striking about groupthink is not so much that dissenting
opinions are crushed or shouted down, but they come to seem improbable," he
said. "Everyone operates on the idea that this is true, so everyone goes out
to prove that it's true."

Surowiecki, who concludes in his book that "under the right circumstances,
most groups are remarkably intelligent," said it's when leaders surround
themselves with like-minded people that groupthink is a danger.

"Collective wisdom," by contrast, comes when "each person in the group is
offering his or her best independent forecast," he said. "It's not at all
about compromise or consensus."


An excerpt from Los Angeles Times Op-Ed July 11, 2004:
COMMENTARY
'Groupthink' Isn't the CIA's Problem
A culture of individualism is the norm.
By Robert Jervis, Robert Jervis is a political science and international
politics professor at Columbia University and a consultant to the CIA.


"Groupthink" - identified in the early 1970s by the late Yale psychologist
Irving Janis - refers to a process by which conformity grows out of
deliberations in small groups. It can indeed be quite powerful. The way
Janis explained it, groupthink operates when individuals work closely
together over a sustained period. It isn't merely that members of the group
come to think alike but that they come to overvalue the harmonious
functioning of the group. In their eagerness to reach consensus, they become
inhibited from questioning established assumptions or from raising questions
that might disturb their colleagues and friends.

A vicious circle begins as the group feels good about itself because it has
discovered the truth, and this truth is accepted by each person because it
is believed by the others. In this way, a group of intelligent individuals
can confidently arrive at conclusions that are wildly removed from reality.

Most social scientists agree that groupthink has contributed to many
disastrous decisions in business, families and foreign policy.


President Kennedy and his top advisors, for instance, fell into a groupthink
trap, believing that the landings of the Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs in
April, 1961, might overthrow Fidel Castro. Intense face-to-face meetings
among the president's top foreign policy planners formed strong bonds that
no one wanted to loosen. In hindsight, their plans were so badly flawed that
it is hard to understand how such world-wise leaders could have endorsed
them. But apparently each individual grew confident because the others
were - each was reassured because the group was functioning so well and
without discord; no one felt the need, or had the nerve, to insist they
consider the possibility that the group was on the totally wrong track.

Richard Nixon's Watergate cover-up was in part maintained by the same
dynamic. To many outsiders even at the time, it was obvious that the only
way for Nixon to survive was to air the full truth early on. But the Nixon
White House was a small group, closed-mouthed and predisposed to keep
everything secret.


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