Issue #38 - Groupthink 🦛





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Mental Models Weekly
Issue #38 - Groupthink 🦛
By Julia Clavien • Issue #38 • View online
This week I’m covering groupthink, and a related idea - the HiPPO effect.
You might find this week’s model a little more lighthearted. Or it might hit a nerve and rattle you a bit!

What is groupthink?
Groupthink explains our tendency to favor harmony or conformity in a group, which can result in poor quality decision making.
Groupthink occurs when the thinking of a group slides towards the views of the dominant group member.
In any organization with a hierarchy you’ll probably find groupthink to be common. You might be able to recall times when you just nodded along with others even though you disagreed - not wanting to speak up? Or maybe you were leading and no one seemed to question you on a decision that turned out to be quite wrong?
Sometimes groupthink occurs unconsciously and it’s not very obvious. Other times it’s more conscious and can be kinda gross to witness. (Have you ever had a colleague who terms like bootlicking or brown nosing were made for?)
Either way, deliberate or not, it’s groupthink.
What is the HiPPO effect?
HiPPO stands for highest paid person’s opinion.
Maybe it’s a board member, or a CEO or some other executive. This person’s opinion is at risk of dominating all judgements and decision making - and this is the HiPPO effect.
Sometimes the HiPPO can be a driver of groupthink. When I’ve been in organizations with a HiPPO problem I’ve noticed a couple of subtle signs. Communication tends to be more hidden, rooms go silent the HiPP arrives, and there are a lot more direct messages via email/Slack or equivalent instead of broadcast activity. This is not good!
Why is this interesting?
Groupthink can lead to suboptimal decision making, and the HiPPO, as well as louder extroverted types can make things even worse - by drowning out quieter more thoughtful opinions or constructive dissent.
I’ve had great results implementing these two processes to reduce groupthink:
  1. Solicit opinions in advance. This gives access to more candid views, and has a byproduct of makings meetings more efficient.
  2. Blind vote. If there is a decision is wanted to be made in a democratic way, a blind vote is a good idea. This helps offset groupthink and also anchoring.
Photo by DesignerPoint
Photo by DesignerPoint
Want to go deeper?
😂 There are some great (albeit insulting) terms related to groupthink… Take the “empty barrel”:
A person who exhibits bluster and puts forth loud uniformed opinions to get attention.
I think the term might have been inspired by Plato who said:
An empty vessel makes the loudest sound, so they that have the least wit are the greatest babblers.
🔖 The bay of pigs disaster is one of the original case studies on groupthink
🔖 If you’re a product manager of some kind you probably about HiPPOs all too well. The ProductPlan blog cautions you:
Don’t allow a HiPPO to back you into a corner and force you to rewrite the well-researched, data-backed roadmap you’ve developed, just to include a feature or functionality they thought of over breakfast.
🧠 Build your latticework! Revisit related mental models:
Got comments?
What has been your experience with groupthink?
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Julia Clavien

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