The 10th Man

 Cover of World War Z, by Max Brooks

Zombie Apocalypse fans will know this one, but the 10th Man concept from Max Brooks's World War Z -- where a tenth man must disagree with the other nine -- is does have a basis in truth. Groupthink can be detrimental to a group's effectiveness, and even lead to its unraveling.

Reasons for Groupthink

Adolf Hitler and his inner circle seduced an entire nation with promises of racial purity and living space.


  • Lack of Objective Leadership

    A leader who does not think objectively will imbue their personal beliefs on a group, either by accident or deliberately. The result is that most or all members will all think the same way.


  • Isolation

    When a group is heavily isolated -- either through lack of exposure or deliberate concealment -- its members will be shielded from other ideas, leading to one way of thinking.


  • High Threat Environments

    An imminent threat can create this condition if a leader does not counter it. Goes hand in hand with lack of objective leadership. A group can become the very monster it is fighting in this situation and lead to either mutual destruction or to an outcome of "meet the new boss, same as the old boss."


  •  Excessive Cohesion & Homogeneity 

    Cohesion is essential, but like success, too much of it can have a cost. If a group is extremely cohesive or homogenous, its members will have a strong bias toward one set of ideas and be resistant to alternatives. 


Effects of Groupthink

 Communism, as practiced by dictatorships of the proletariat, is a prime example of all of groupthink's effects.
  • Lack of Innovation

    The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result. Despite Einstein's famous definition of insanity, many governments, corporations and movements insist on repeating the same mistake, often with the excuse of "it's better than nothing." The bigger the group, the less adaptable it will be to changing conditions.


  • Complacency

    Complacency happens when a group has runaway success, leading to a sense of infallibility and ignorance among the group's members of the group's flaws.


  • Suppression of Individuality

    The group's importance outweighs the importance of its members. In extreme form, this leads to sacrifices for the common good, but in mild form, can lead to exclusion of its members, weakening it both quantitatively and qualitatively.


  • Suppression of Dissent & Close Mindedness 

    A group that suppresses dissent will become close minded. Silence is taken as agreement, and dissenting opinions are taken as a threat. In extreme form, a group will believe its way of thinking applies to everyone and may attempt to force their views onto others. Purges of the upper ranks of a group can also occur.


Reasons People Will Not Dissent

Every atrocity is the result of following orders, a condition that arises from groupthink in its extreme form.


  • Ostracism

    Almost nobody wants the responsibility for being wrong, so they will not take the chance. In mild form, the dissenting member will be excluded and cut off from support they might need. In extreme form, dissenters will be purged violently.

  • Normalcy  

    People will do some things because everyone else does it. When aware of the wrongness of something, members feel they have strength in numbers. Responsibility is also easier to bear when it is shared, or when it can be shifted ("We are only following orders").


  • Personal Gain & Self Preservation 

    There are also those who want to be on the "winning team." These members may start out in disagreement with the majority, but the more of the group's narrative they are exposed to, the more they might start believing it. Others may join the "enemy of my enemy," also end up believing repeated lies, or at least idealizing their situation. Others still feel that they are a cog in a far bigger machine, and see the impossibility of challenging the official argument, even if they might actually have a good chance at winning. If aware of the wrongness of their actions, they will force themselves to believe the official narrative, to suppress their own guilt.


Preventing Groupthink

 Screenshot from the movie version of World War Z, from Paramount.
  • Encourage Debate

    As silence is often taken as agreement, encourage constructive criticism. This includes the questioning of orders when possible.

  • Encourage Objectivity

    The truth is often hard to accept, especially when it conflicts with a deeply held philosophy or the results of a group's actions were, or will be ugly. Most will deny, or rationalize. Members need to accept the truth, no matter how terrible it is.


  • Appoint a Devil's Advocate

    At least one person must be tasked with the duty to disagree with the majority opinion, no matter what. This includes arguing in favor of an opposing point of view. The devil's advocate should be a different person each time.


    Encourage the questioning of orders

    Not every situation is urgent, so questioning should be encouraged as much as possible. A good group will minimize its chances of ending up in a situation where orders can't be questioned.

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