Groupthink has plagued leaders, corporate and otherwise, since time immemorial. From the Bay of Pigs invasion to the explosion of the Challenger, history is riddled with fiascoes and disasters attributed to this pernicious and pervasive problem.
Groupthink is the tendency of people to stop thinking for themselves, and start putting their faith in the collective. It stifles creativity and has a devilish tendency to interfere with people’s ability to make good decisions in a group setting. It can happen any time a group is attempting to make a decision.
So how do you go about defeating groupthink and averting disastrous decisions? One school of thought is to try cultivating collective range in your team.
Range and groupthink
In his book Range, bestselling author David Epstein makes the argument for generalization over specialization. Epstein asserts that contrary to the popularly held belief that intense, sustained study and practice in one domain inevitably leads to greatness, it’s actually more advantageous to develop knowledge and skills across a wide breadth of subjects. As he puts it, among top performers in a variety of fields, “specialization is the exception, not the rule.”
The same can be said of high-performing teams. The NeuroLeadership Institute has written extensively on how teams with diverse experiences and perspectives solve problems better and faster. Studies show that diverse teams consistently outperform homogeneous teams, especially on tasks that are creative, nonlinear, or complex. You might call that the advantage of collective range. It’s the practice of a team harnessing the power of many experiences and perspectives.
That’s why, as Epstein explains, companies like InnoCentive leverage collective range by crowd-sourcing solutions to their clients’ most wicked problems. By making difficult challenges public, they take advantage of a diverse pool of problem solvers. In doing so, they’ve solved some of their client organizations’ trickiest problems, like helping NASA keep food fresh in space.
Create creative teams
Creative problem solving is perhaps the most critical and in-demand skill for individuals and teams today. But creativity is often thwarted by homogeneous teams and the resulting tendency to think as a group.
Going along to get along certainly makes things easier, but it doesn’t necessarily get the best results. As Epstein notes, such homogenous settings are “efficient and comfortable, perhaps, but apparently not a creative engine.”
Going forward, try to group source your problems internally by actively including diverse opinions over the course of your meetings. And along the way, keep in mind a final note from Epstein: “People who think broadly and embrace diverse experiences and perspectives will increasingly thrive.”