Do great minds always think alike?
27 Jul 2017 - Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
Or are they just hesitant to challenge the consensus?
I’m not a betting man, but given recent events I may reconsider the next time I see the phrase “general consensus”. What a radically different 2017 we would be living in if consensus predictions had indeed come true. Hillary Clinton would be the first female President of the United States; the UK would still be very much a part of the EU; Theresa May would command an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons; Jeremy Corbyn would long ago have been ousted as Labour leader; Leicester would never have won the Premier League… the list goes on. A quick look at the field of behavioural science seems to hold a potential explanation for this repeated (and damaging) scarcity of dissenting opinions.
The concept of “groupthink” was first coined in the early 1950’s in reference to “the mode of thinking that persons engage in when concurrence-seeking becomes so dominant in a cohesive ingroup that it tends to override realistic appraisal of alternative courses of action.” Put simply: a group “consensus” often does not accurately reflect the collective views of that group. This groupthink can occur for a variety of reasons:
- A desire to be “efficient” preventing members from voicing dissenting opinions that may slow the process of reaching a conclusion;
- A reluctance to speak out for fear of seeming incompetent or uninformed;
- A vocal or domineering leader inadvertently (or deliberately) suppressing or overriding opinions that contradict their own; or
- A desire to minimise the stress involved in decision making.
I’m sure many of us can recall a time when we’ve had private reservations about an idea, but held our tongue for one or more of the reasons above. Trustees are not immune to the effects of groupthink, either. The FCA’s Asset Market Management Study specifically cited that “trustees often fear complexity and looking ignorant in front of their peers. This contributes to their unwillingness to challenge and makes them more likely to accept proposed strategies that they do not fully understand."
It’s tempting to dismiss such an abstract notion as “groupthink”: to reject the idea that professionals with years of experience in their respective fields could subconsciously fall into a consensus. However, to do so would inevitably lead to the conclusion that we have all, independently, come to such wildly inaccurate conclusions as those mentioned earlier. It’s clear that the way in which issues are discussed and conclusions reached needs to be addressed.
We believe the most effective discussions are those which give everyone an equal chance of voicing their opinion, which is why our unique Periskope app has become a vital component of our facilitated client meetings. By collating individual opinions and presenting responses visually in real-time, Periskope makes it easy to identify those whose opinions differ from the group consensus, rather than allowing individuals to simply stay silent and go along with the rest of the group. By doing so, we’re confident our clients won’t become akin to the lesser-used half of the titular adage: great minds think alike but fools seldom differ.
Please contact us if you’d like to discuss further.