A Business Remedy for Conventional Wisdom and Groupthink

Merriam-Webster defines conventional wisdom as “the generally accepted belief, opinion, judgment, or prediction about a particular matter.”

More than ever, we need vigilance and counter-measures to prevent conventional wisdom and the related danger of groupthink from derailing high-performing organizations.

Credit: iStock

Picture this. Colleagues sitting around a table (or maybe remotely connected by phone or video), giving their views, sharing ideas, making recommendations, or just pontificating. Someone has a question, wants a clarification, or can offer a different point-of-view, or an alternate way forward.

We’ve all been there. But what really happens?


Constructive, robust, civil discussion and debate is not only healthy but absolutely necessary if you want a winning culture and company. That means team members, in all roles and at all levels, should be encouraged and comfortable to participate in determining the best ways to help the company achieve its objectives.

It also means that at the end of that productive process, a clear decision will be made. And everyone understands up-front who is the decision-maker or what is the decision-making process.

It takes leadership to make this happen. Not just the CEO and in the C suite. Every manager, supervisor and team leader needs to adopt this approach. And every contributor across the organization should act as though such a way of doing business is the norm, not the exception.


Gerald Seib is the Washington bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal. He just wrote a powerful article on the perils of conventional wisdom and groupthink in government and politics. They are equally concerning in the business world.

Here are his four remedies:

  1. Get Out of Your Bubble
  2. Build a System For Hearing Different Views
  3. Be Ready For Some Discomfort
  4. Show Some Humility

And here are some of my action steps to implement such an approach.

To get out of your bubble.  Literally, get out of your office! (Refer to related post.) Engage with customers. Visit your manufacturing plants. Listen-in to call center phone calls. Read consumer comments on your social media platforms.

To build a system for hearing different views.
(a) Start with yourself. If you’re a meeting facilitator or team leader, make sure everyone has a fair chance to present their ideas. And, when someone has a better way forward than you, say so. Giving credit shows strength, not weakness, and is the easiest way to fuel a strong team.

(b) Encourage and instill an “end-user” mindset across the organization. Collect and disseminate objective information and research facts to counter any vestige of the “that’s the way it is” or “that’s the way we’ve always done it” syndromes.

To be ready for some discomfort.  Understand that the status quo is comfortable for some people. It’s probably not good for the health of your company, though. Frame discussions and actions in terms of company success and achieving the business objectives, not a battle between colleagues. It’s okay to disagree. It’s not okay to put heads in the sand and ignore reality.

To show some humility.  Some years back, in a conference room setting similar to my example above, I was the lone questioner/challenger to a particular course of action. At the first break, the gentleman championing the majority-determined path came up to chat. I don’t remember the  complete story, just the look on his face as he delivered his punch line: “maybe the other guy is right.”

To this day, I don’t know if his purpose was to gloat or be conciliatory. It doesn’t matter. I took it as an important lesson. Always consider the issue from the other person’s perspective. Whether or not you agree, it’s important to understand where and why the point-of-view and/or passion is coming from. And, that maybe, the other guy is right, or has a better idea.


Harvey Chimoff is a versatile marketing and business team leader who believes good marketing sells. Contact him at StratGo Marketing, a plug-in marketing department resource for company leaders.

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