I read an article recently about the shocking theft over a long period of time of artefacts from the British Museum. The world-famous museum which houses objects including the Rosetta Stone and the Parthenon Marbles was the “victim of an inside job” said George Osborne, when approximately 2,000 artefacts were stolen from its collections.
Osborne has also said that the phenomenon known as ‘groupthink’ is one of the reasons that the thefts went undetected for so long. He is suggesting that the whole group could not fathom or believe that the objects were vulnerable to theft, nor that anyone working at the museum would decide to steal them.
Whilst this is an extreme and shocking example of possible groupthink, it’s something that as a brainstorm facilitator I see often. People will defer to hierarchy or the so-called HIPPO in the room (highest paid person’s opinion).
“HiPPOs are leaders who are so self-assured that they need neither other’s ideas nor data to affirm the correctness of their instinctual beliefs. Relying on their experience and smarts, they are quick to shoot down contradictory positions and dismissive of underling’s input.”Forbes Magazine
What is Groupthink?
It’s a phenomenon that occurs when a group of people make irrational or poor decisions because they are reluctant to challenge each other’s opinions or ideas. It is often caused by a strong desire for conformity and harmony within the group.
“Groupthink” was first introduced in Psychology Today by the psychologist Irving Janis. It can have a devastating impact on innovation. When people are afraid to speak up or disagree with others, they are less likely to share their most creative and innovative ideas. This can lead to a less diverse and less effective brainstorming session, and ultimately to poorer decision-making.
Here are some tips for avoiding groupthink:
- Create a safe and supportive environment: Encourage everyone to feel comfortable sharing their ideas, no matter how crazy they may seem.
- Set ground rules: Establish some ground rules for the brainstorming session, such as no criticism or judgment, and everyone gets a chance to speak. We like IDEO’s 7 rules for divergent thinking:
- Defer judgement
- Encourage wild ideas
- Build on others’ ideas
- Stay on topic
- One conversation at a time
- Be visual
- Go for quantity.
- Use anonymous idea submission: If people are still hesitant to share their ideas, consider using an anonymous idea submission process. This can help to reduce the pressure of conformity and encourage people to share their most creative ideas.
- Have a facilitator: A facilitator can help to keep the brainstorming session on track and ensure that everyone has a chance to participate.
- Take breaks: Take short breaks throughout the brainstorming session to give people a chance to recharge and come up with new ideas.
- Break the group up: We like the process 1,2,4 all – work alone, in pairs, pair up with another pair then share back to the group.
- Use asynchronous tools: We love using MIRO and MURAL whiteboarding tools to allow people to share their ideas, anonymously or otherwise, in their own time without being unduly influenced by others.
- Share the criteria for decision-making: Make it clear that this is an objective process.
- Try a pre-mortem: When you’ve chosen a route, think about all the possible things that could go wrong using the pre-mortem technique (before the patient/idea dies a death, not after). See our blog on the pre-mortem here.
By following these tips, you can help to create a brainstorming environment that is more conducive to creativity and innovative thinking. When people are afraid to speak up or disagree with others, they are less likely to share their most creative ideas. This can lead to a less diverse and less effective brainstorming session, and ultimately to poorer decision-making.