In Part I of this examination of design errors, we noted that the consequences of design errors are sometimes favorable. We also explored groupthink and considered an example of how groupthink can lead to design errors. Groupthink is an example of a group bias — an attribute of the way groups function that can often lead to results that differ from the group's intentions.
Many group biases have been identified, and to the extent that they produce results at variance with group intentions, they can all lead to design errors that produce unexpected and unintended results. Here are three of them.
- Group polarization
- Group polarization is the tendency of groups to adopt positions more extreme than any of their members would adopt if acting individually. The phenomenon is consistent with a normalization effect that can occur when group members learn that the sense of the group is in general alignment with their own inclinations. Members then feel free to abandon reluctance and doubt with respect to their private judgments, and the result is a "hardening" of those judgments. More
- For groups making design decisions, group polarization can suppress interest in alternatives, and any desire to search for or explore rare but important use cases. It can also lead to outright rejection of perfectly workable designs — a form of design error not often noticed, because rejected designs typically are not implemented.
- Pluralistic ignorance
- In pluralistic ignorance, group members privately reject a position, while they simultaneously and incorrectly believe that almost everyone else accepts it. They decline to voice objections because they feel that doing so is pointless, or because they misinterpret the positions of other group members. More
- For example, consider a design that forthrightly concedes that it does not address a well-defined need of the customer population. All of the members of the group might have misgivings about failing to address the issue, but the group adopts the design anyway because all members believe (erroneously) that the others favor it.
- Abilene paradox
- Closely related to pluralistic Many group biases have been identified,
and to the extent that they produce
results at variance with group intentions,
they can all lead to design errorsignorance, the Abilene paradox applies when members of a group agree to go along with a group decision despite their private misgivings, mostly because of unpleasant imaginings of what the group might say or do if the member were to be honest about his or her misgivings. More
- For example, a group can reach a design decision that none of its members support, because all of its members imagine that serious conflict — possibly threatening the group's ability to work together — would erupt if they were to express their honest objections to the proposed design.
Although all of these biases (and others) can lead groups to decisions their members do not support, the results can actually be positive. Some groups do well in spite of themselves. It's rare, but it happens. First in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Problem Solving and Creativity:
- Choices for Widening Choices
- Choosing is easy when you don't have much to choose from. That's one reason why groups sometimes don't
recognize all the possibilities — they're happiest when choosing is easy. When we notice this
happening, what can we do about it?
- Comfortable Ignorance
- When we suddenly realize that what we've believed is wrong, or that what we've been doing won't work,
our fear and discomfort can cause us to persevere in our illusions. If we can get better at accepting
reality and dealing with it, we can make faster progress toward real achievement.
- Organizing a Barn Raising
- Once you find a task that you can tackle as a "barn raising," your work is just beginning.
Planning and organizing the work is in many ways the hard part.
- Contributions, Open and Closed
- We can classify contributions to discussions according to the likelihood that they stimulate new thought.
The more open they are, the more they stimulate new thought. How can we encourage open contributions?
- Nine Brainstorming Demotivators: I
- The quality of the output of brainstorming sessions is notoriously variable. One source of variation
is the enthusiasm of contributors. Here's Part I of a set of nine phenomena that can limit contributions
to brainstorm sessions.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming May 29: Newtonian Blind Alleys: II
- Some of our decisions don't turn out well. The nature of our errors does vary, but a common class of errors is due to applying concepts from physics originated by Isaac Newton. One of these is the concept of spectrum. Available here and by RSS on May 29.
- And on June 5: I Could Be Wrong About That
- Before we make joint decisions at work, we usually debate the options. We come together to share views, and then a debate ensues. Some of these debates turn out well, but too many do not. Allowing for the fact that "I could be wrong" improves outcomes. Available here and by RSS on June 5.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.