Re: Groupthink
From: Wayne Tyson (
Date: Sun, 17 Jul 2011 18:19:41 -0700 (PDT)

"Fruitless back-and-forth" is as sure a sign of not thinking at all, but of merely insisting upon opinions. Strong opinions block thinking; one cannot simultaneously believe and think. Thinking is a process of examination of phenomena, and at its best always begins with a questioning of one's own conclusions, which, in the case of thinking, are necessarily provisional. Opinions and positions which are not provisional are rigid refuges from which one excludes all questioning, regardless of merit.

Groupthink is a result of manipulation (and often the manipulation is very subtle; the "best" manipulators tend to be intelligent, and often can be sociopaths or psychopaths--pick either term, "insidious," as Villines points out). "Consensus" can play deftly into the hands of manipulators. Authoritarian personalities tend to be either domineering or submissive "true believers," Hitler being a familiar example. "Nazi," for example, has become, in the popular lexicon, a word commonly used to refer to groupthinking groups who are fixed upon a common ideology or intolerant individuals, e.g. the famous Soup-Nazi of Seinfeld's TV comedic rendering.

Again, as Villines points out, "groupthink" can be used as a manipulative tool, ironically, to indict or impugn the character of others--a device for enforcing the groupthink mentality. Digression is a powerful tool for manipulation, in that if the going gets tough for the manipulator, he or she can simply change the subject and evade the difficult issue. This, next to money, is the "mother's milk" of politics. It's a shame, but more of us than not are willing to be neutralized by this tried-and-true device. The practices of intimidation and coercion that Villines mentions can be summed up under the common rubric of "bullying." Janis' "independent critical thinking" is CRITICAL.


----- Original Message ----- From: "Sharon Villines" <sharon [at]>
To: "Cohousing-L" <cohousing-l [at]>
Sent: Sunday, July 17, 2011 7:39 AM
Subject: [C-L]_ Groupthink

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 groupthink.

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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