(Janis 1982) Groupthink

Janis, Irving L. Groupthink: psychological studies of policy decisions and fiascoes. 2nd ed. Boston, Massachusetts, USA: Houghton Mifflin; 1982.

Through a series of in-depth case studies of historical incidents of group decisionmaking, successful and unsuccessful, Janis adduces prima facie evidence that a principal impediment to good decisionmaking is “groupthink”, a syndrome in which internal group pressures toward conformity and amicability are allowed to override reality testing. One pair of case studies is particularly interesting because they occurred less than two years apart and the decisionmaking group (the top level of the Kennedy administration) was essentially the same: the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban missile crisis. Of these two, it was the fiasco (the Bay of Pigs) that was characterized by pervasive groupthink, while the successful decisions in the Cuban missile crisis were made in a highly stressful atmosphere characterized by blunt, even confrontational, candor. Anyone who believes that rational dialogue and clear thinking are best conducted under conditions of broadly defined “civility” or “collegiality” should read this book.


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