Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Round 2: Classic Leadership Books

In today's post, I'm focusing on two more complementary classics that every leader should go back and read. Today's books: Victims of Groupthink and The Wisdom of Crowds.

In The Wisdom of Crowds, by James Surowiecki examines how "none of us is as smart as all of us." He shows us how and why the pooling of our collective intellect can lead to much better conclusions and decisions. For instance, he starts the book with the example of the game show, Who Wants to be a Millionaire? He tells us that, when contestants ask the audience to vote, the answer with the most votes is the correct one a whopping 91% of the time. Surowiecki explains how various forms of mass collaboration, including prediction markets and open innovation efforts, capitalize on the wisdom of crowds. Of course, he also points out that the collective wisdom only materializes if "independence" exists among the parties contributing in the process. In other words, once we put people in a group where social influence processes can unfold, then we are not always able to achieve such collective wisdom. Put people in a conference room and allow group dynamics to unfold, and suddenly, collective wisdom turns to faulty logic. That point leads us nicely back to another management classic by Irving Janis.

Janis wrote the book, Victims of Groupthink, back in 1972. The term groupthink soon became part of the management lexicon around the world. Janis examined a series of very important presidential decisions, and he showed how a very smart, well-intentioned, and capable group of people can sometimes make poor decisions because of pressures for conformity that arise within teams. In short, he showed how and why we sometimes "go along to get along" in groups. His theory offered an explanation of how group cohesiveness can sometimes become unproductive, leading to a premature convergence on a single alternative, self-censorship on the part of many members, and direct pressure on those trying to put forth dissenting views. His classic fiasco was the Bay of Pigs, and he then offered the Cuban Missile Crisis as a contrasting positive example of how a group can combat groupthink effectively. Janis' theory and examples show us how and why many groups do not achieve their potential, i.e. why we often do not marshal and integrate the intellect of team members in a way that produces true collective wisdom.

1 comment:

Brian said...

I think everyone would be wise to read these books in conjuction with Prof Roberto's books on decision making. For while wide ranging viewpoints are productive and important, leaders are ultimately forced to make DECISIONS based on those viewpoints. Committees and compromises are rarely efficient or effective.