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Groupthink and the Yes Man

By February 13, 2017November 6th, 2021Energy Rant

When this post launches, I will be sitting in a critical thinking course as part of AESP’s National Conference. As luck would have it, I also stumbled onto a couple interesting articles while eating my curds and whey last week. The first covers echo chambers from Inc. Magazine, and the second was referenced in that article: How to Defeat Groupthink, from Fortune Magazine.

The Fortune article points out instances such as investment clubs, where robust debate leads to better results. In other words, avoiding echo chambers and groupthink is good and results in greater productivity.

In case you haven’t noticed, The Energy Rant is anything but groupthink.

The Incredibly Shrinking Objectivity

To successfully avoid groupthink, one must check their biases and preconceptions (all of them) at the door and listen, especially to the side with the opposing views.

As an old man, I have witnessed a substantial changing of dialogue and discourse in this country, especially in politics. Adversity unites people and peace and prosperity divides people – how perverted is that? But it’s true.

In the 1980s, and prior decades, when we faced a real risk of nuclear annihilation, liberals and conservatives worked together. Nowadays, it’s straight party line vote on virtually everything. The result is not much is legislated like it is supposed to be, through Congress. Instead, it’s all waged via executive orders and the courts. This is a big problem, and it is why we had a climate plan and soon, we most likely won’t.

Climate Change

Although it is not high on the list of priorities for the average voter, climate change is one of the most divisive political topics. Polls show that given discrete choices of top priorities for voters, climate change comes in at 5th or 6th most important, being chosen by 5-8% of voters as the most critical issue.

There is almost no constructive discussion about this issue: the cost of doing nothing, the cost of doing something, what problems we may face in either direction. Instead, we have name-calling: climate deniers versus climate change fascists. No. I have never used either term other than explaining the state of our discourse.

Nobody is more passionate about preserving resources, the environment, and doing something about it than I am. But I keep my eyes and mind open to observe the following facts and arguments:

  • The climate debate has been alive and well for at least 25 years. One risk would be endangerment of our food supply. But I just read in The Wall Street Journal last week that the next farm bust is upon us. Why? A worldwide glut of food as a result of technology, especially abroad.
  • The opposition argues we will spend zillions to result in a couple degrees difference over a century. What difference would a couple degrees make, assuming that is correct? No one knows.
  • The US has a shrinking share of emissions, (and shrinking absolutely) with China blowing past us just a few years ago and almost double our emissions today. India’s are gaining on us exponentially.

Meanwhile, there is a problem and a risk that is undeniable, as shown in the chart above.

Not to join any Kool-Aid parties, I learned for myself that there is a legitimate threat, as posted a year ago in Climate Change 1 Things Untold.

Critical Thinking

The Fortune article asks, why do governments stick with policies that clearly aren’t working?

I have a saying – to be successful, you have to recognize failure. Rationalizing failure is a sure way to continue to fail. Want an example? Great! I have a bipartisan repeating failure example.

Government funded stimulus, also known as Keynesian economics, never works because of entropy. One has to add value beyond the losses of entropy to grow wealth. Yes, we need roads and bridges, but only for the sake of facilitating commerce. Wealth is generated in the private sector, and when that spills into infrastructure improvements, great! Cause. Effect.

Failure is rationalized by the counterfactual or that it wasn’t big enough. I.e., it would have been worse. Sure. If we had only spent $2 trillion rather than $1 trillion. Sure.

Outside the Box

Finally, I share another post from Inc. The subject: creating a culture for innovation to thrive. Number 1: provide psychological safety. Ironically, this is what divisive mobs provide – close-minded groupthink, but that is not what they mean in this case. In this case, welcome ideas and input. They also suggest deconstructing silos, investing in technology, communicating “why” with “what,” trim the bureaucracy, and invest in the future.

That’s all great, but the thing I tweeted back is that the leader needs to provide performance expectations. It is the opposite of recognizing failure: defining success. Success defined is usually a combination of several criteria. For example:

  • Profit and quality/value
  • Sales at a price which we can thrive

I would add one other ingredient to the recipe: a whatever-it-takes drive. Apple is often cited as an innovative company, at least under Jobs. He was relentless and not afraid to say, “that is a stupid idea”. This brings me to my last point, that success produces social capital. In other words, consider the objective track record of the individual. I’m more likely to go with a successful person’s crazy idea and more likely to listen when they say something is a stupid idea.

Jeff Ihnen

Author Jeff Ihnen

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