Sunday, September 13, 2015

Are We Creating Future Generations of Shepherd’s or Sheep?

There was a post on LinkedIn just the other day where someone had posted a picture with the caption “click like and type 6 and watch what happens” – and at the time I saw this so called discussion over 3,500 highly qualified people had ‘liked’ this discussion, typed ‘6’ and then written a comment along the lines of “hey, nothing happened” or “what’s meant to happen?”
Of course a handful of people, less than 1%, had commented that this was a con and they couldn’t believe how gullible people were as it’s clear nothing is going to happen because it’s a static picture lol. Apparently these kind of ‘posts’ are quite common according to some – and yet thousands of people ‘fall’ for them each time.
Then you have the ‘discussions’ (I use the term loosely) where you’re given a pretty simple mathematical puzzle to solve with the headline – ‘only a genius can solve this’ – which translates into ‘a four year old can solve this’; but yet again thousands of highly qualified people participate and answer the obvious question – I assume because they desperately want to be hailed as a ‘genius’.
What shocks me is that it appears these people are ‘shepherds’ in the business world, yet become ‘sheep’ in the world of social media where many people can get caught in ‘following the crowd’ just to be trendy or whatever. Where for a millisecond they lose complete confidence and have a desperate desire to be ‘seen’ as a genius along with the other few thousand people – I assume also believing in that millisecond that recruiters and potential clients will take their ‘genius’ (of a four year old) into account.
In a sense it’s an extension of ‘groupthink psychological theory’ where people fail to think rationally as they see one person has ‘done’ the task and assume – all evidence to the contrary – that maybe there’s something to see and their inquisitiveness takes over and they follow the crowd.
Some of the participants in the discussion had the courage to write later that they couldn’t believe how gullible they had been – but as we know in business, it only takes one error of judgement to significantly damage and organisation’s or individual’s future.
Of course, as one participant had mentioned in the comments, there’s a more sinister side to this, where it shows how easily people can be fooled into forgetting what they genuinely know to be true and instead can be so easily led to follow a set of instructions ‘believing that a miracle is truly going to happen.’ In these particular cases no damage was done – but that’s just in these examples.
In a world where ‘front line news’ has now become entertainment first and real facts second; politics is about short term tenure rather than long term prosperity; and where many businesses lack genuine accountability at the very top in that constant year-on-year search for profit maximisation – how do we ensure we develop future generations of shepherds, in a society that wants to encourage them to be sheep?
In an on-line article in CommunicationTheory.Org they remind us that “Groupthink is an occurrence where by a group comes to a unanimous decision about a possible action despite the existence of fact that points to another correct course of action. This term was first given by Irving Janis who was a social psychologist. His main aim was to understand how a group of individuals came up with excellent decisions one time and totally messed up ones at other times. According to Irving, in a group sometimes there comes a situation when all the members of the group think it is more important to come to a unanimous decision than to carefully go through all their options to get at the most beneficial course of action.”
Also the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (2010) defines Groupthink as “a pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent, and conformity to group values and ethics.”
Groupthink as it currently stands is not accepted by everyone and James Rose highlights how “Janis (1972, 1982) defined the groupthink model to describe a potential downside that groups face where conformity pressure can lead to defective decision-making. Janis specified symptoms of groupthink and steps groups can take to prevent groupthink. Researchers have completed many case studies where groupthink appears to factor into poor decisions. It appears groupthink occurs across a wide spectrum of groups. Experimental results, however, are limited and at best give mixed results. A key question is whether groupthink is a myth (Fuller & Aldag, 1998) or whether improved experimental approaches will validate the model. Mohamed and Wiebe (1996) advocated, - the nature of the theory is still unclear. This ambiguity represents a major barrier to theory testing, (p.51).”
Yet there are more pressing matters for future generations than Groupthink. ‘We’ first need to encourage children to act and think as individuals and encourage them to realise that learning and true innovation, means challenging the status quo. How you challenge the status quo is for another article – and yes, has a huge impact on how your thoughts and ideas will be received in any setting, whether in business or your personal life.
But we need to ensure we create environments that encourage future generations not to become sheep and simply follow ‘groups’ because it appears to be the ‘cool’ thing to do and feeling this allows them to feel more accepted by society. This isn’t just within the education system – but the business sector needs to look beyond ‘conforming’ cultures that encourage a ‘groupthink’ mentality – to creating environments and cultures that encourages individualism so that organisations can genuinely maximise their long-term optimal potential.
Groupthink in Group Communication, Organisational Communication, Psychology, Behavioral and Social Science [Online:] 12.09.2015
Rose, J.D. (2011). Diverse Perspectives on the Groupthink Theory – A Literary Review. Emerging Leadership Journeys. Vol. 4 Issue. 1, p. 37-57.