What happens when a group has to decide what ice cream to serve?


We are warned about how groupthink destroys creativity with sayings like a camel is a horse designed by a committee.

People making decisions in groups have sent astronauts to the moon and started two world wars – they have created the modern world and carried out genocide.

So, when is groupthink good and bad and can we recognise the difference?

One thing that often happens is that a group tries to reach a solution that is acceptable to everyone.

This usually results in a bland compromise – with everyone being served vanilla ice cream.

Is the way we live a compromise then?

Our societies operate within a framework of laws set out by a group of people who set out to debate and agree acceptable ways of living.

The difference is that each legislator fights for his or her constituents, and it is the process of debate and negotiation that results in laws.

Perhaps there is some insight in that process.

If a group of people try and decide what is best for a group as a whole, then at best they will come up with vanilla ice cream.

At worst, they will come up with the idea of fighting another group and starting a war.

Neither option is particularly attractive.

What seems to work better is people doing things that are in their best interests and standing up for what they want.

It’s more like a market, where everyone has a choice where to put their time, energy and money.

The individual decisions that they make create larger flows of decisions in the population, from which collective ideas and choices emerge.

This bottom up approach results in a more robust way of life and forms democracy as we know it.

As Churchill said democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried from time to time.

We can’t avoid operating in groups – that is the way society is organised and functions.

What we need to be aware of is how quickly groups can start to function poorly. All we need to do is look around the world at conflict zones to see how this happens.

Individuals acting in their own interests but cooperating in a group tend to come up with societal structures that have a chance to endure.

Decisions imposed on groups have to be enforced – and lead eventually to a more coercive form of control and government.

So… to make groups work better, we must try harder to think for ourselves.

But even then, we’ll probably vote for vanilla much of the time.

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