From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Sun, 17 Jul 2011 09:19:52 -0700 (PDT)
At the risk of more fruitless back and forth on the issue of groupthink, a 
clarification. I had an off line exchange with Joanie Blank on our differing 
views of groupthink. 

Joanie is a psychologist, has taught psychology, and led groups for over 30 
years. She is familiar with the literature on groupthink beginning with Janis, 
and continuing to the present day. Since being presented in the 1950s, the 
concept has been used by psychologists in many ways to refer to many different 
causes of groups producing distorted or flawed results that are not the best 
thinking of the individuals in the group. She is thoroughly familiar with these 
concepts and was certainly presenting them clearly.

I tend to be a let's-go-back-to-the-beginning person. My own academic view is 
with any great word like "groupthink" it soon becomes the word to use in many 
ways not intended by the inventors of the term and in ways that obscure the 
original heart of the issue.

I was looking at groupthink in its original use to point out what I think is 
the most insidious aspect of group think. We all know about intimidation and 
coercion and lazy minds influencing group decisions. What I see happening in 
cohousing (and other organizations) is that when teams are formed based on 
self-selection, people who think alike join and groupthink takes over. It is 
very easy for team members to agree and to believe that they have the right 
answer because they are on the same wave-length when they began. And new 
members join who know they will like this team because they also think like the 
current members. 

I never intended to say as some heard that "groupthink makes people think 
alike," although over time, I do think _closed_ groups do begin to think alike. 
Shared experiences produce shared convictions. And those who don't share, leave.

"Think alike" doesn't mean identical. Cohousers are not "all alike" but we do 
represent a very specific range of views. Tea Party members are not knocking on 
our doors. Of course, all groups are alike in that they were formed around the 
same aim, in the same time period, with the same resources, etc. In groupthink, 
that sameness in and of itself is used as "evidence" that the group is right.

Groupthink is one reason why in Dynamic Governance assignments of tasks and 
functions are not made on the basis of accepting volunteers. Members can 
self-nominate, but the group makes the decision in discussion by consensus. So 
if a team of 5 is being put together, for example, out of a group of 35, that 
team can be balanced to represent differing points of view and experience. 
Dynamic Governance also requires outside members (your account, lawyer, group 
process consultant, etc.) to be included on the Board. They open the whole 
group to outside thinking. Again, you can choose experts who are sympathetic 
but they will still represent views that are less likely to be subject to 

If you depend on volunteers, you can end up with a group of people that all 
just love each other. Bad decisions can ensue because a decision that feels 
wonderful is can be short-sighted. This is the insidiousness of group think 
that I was presenting. I repeated below the quotes from Whyte and Janis because 
I think these seminal thoughts are important.

Sharon Villines
Coauthor with John Buck of
"We the People: Consenting to a Deeper Democracy"
ISBN: 9780979282706

> William H. Whyte coined the term "groupthink" in 1952, in an article in 
> Fortune magazine:
> Groupthink being a coinage — and, admittedly, a loaded one — a working 
> definition is in order. We are not talking about mere instinctive conformity 
> — it is, after all, a perennial failing of mankind. What we are talking about 
> is a rationalized conformity — an open, articulate philosophy which holds 
> that group values are not only expedient but right and good as well.
> Irving Janis led the initial research on the groupthink theory. His main 
> principle of groupthink states:
> The more amiability and esprit de corps there is among the members of a 
> policy-making ingroup, the greater the danger that independent critical 
> thinking will be replaced by groupthink, which is likely to result in 
> irrational and dehumanizing actions against outgroups.

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