Am I Supersmart or Just Social Groupthink!?

sqrlToday, I came across a thought provoking post by Bob Thompson about Dangers of a Social Groupthink. I could very well relate with the discussion; while teaching a business course, I remember posting a case on the online discussion board; my whole class agreed on the same less than optimal decision! I remembered getting puzzled about how to diagnose and repair this “groupthink”. The phenomenon of groupthink is not new. Prominent researcher in the field I. L. Janis published a great book Victims of Groupthink in 1972, and made this term popular, and initiated the on-going discussions among researchers. In general, groupthink occurs because of group pressures that lead to a deterioration of mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment. In addition to the lack of proper feedback system, there are many different factors that can influence the groupthink. Sometimes, when I think I benefit from your delusions, I make you more of a realist; and, when I think I am likely to suffer losses from them your delusion, I push you toward denial; and this becomes contagious.

Now, the social media technologies make such delusions even more contagious, and boost the spread of the flame of wishful thinking and reality denial and help nurture the “mutually supported delusions” (a term coined by Bénabou in 2009). Designing a sound and efficient feedback system might be crucial for recognizing and efficently handling such delusions. While using social media analytics for market research, it is very important to recognize the delusions around value propositions. Identifying groupthink and understanding the process of collective sense-making is important for using social media analytics.

Janis has documented general symptoms of groupthink that may help us in recognizing the groupthink in our online customer or employee communities.

  1. Illusion of invulnerability and collective rationalization – This happens when there is excessive optimism in people around some specific value propositions, and they discount warnings and do not reconsider their assumptions.
  2. Belief in inherent morality and stereotyped views of out-group  This happens when people ignore the ethical or moral consequences of different alternate value propositions, and create stereotypes around all conflicting ideas.
  3. Direct pressure on dissenters, self censorship and “mindguards” – Few people become dominant influencers, and other people are under pressure not to express arguments against those. Therefore, doubts and deviations from the perceived group consensus are not expressed. People filter all unwelcoming news and become “mindguard” for the community.
  4. Illusion of unanimity – When people think the majority view and judgments are unanimous, they don't take pain to think and take responsibilty.

Have you ever come across such collective delusions around your value propositions? Have you ever benefited or harmed by those delusions? How do you identify and differentiate groupthink from collective intelligence?

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