xxii) Collective stupidity (intelligent people agree to stupid decisions, ie their thinking is shackled)

There are 6 elements to collective stupidity

i)  Leadership-induced (staff develop unquestioning faith in senior management's leadership like a religious cult)

ii) Structure-induced (staff completely buy-in to unsuitable processes and systems)

iii) Brand/image-induced (unquestioned enthusiasm for superficial brands and images by management and staff, ie try to pretend they are different from their competitors)

iv) Imitation-induced (assuming that successful competitors know better, ie only explore the superficial elements via such activities like benchmarking)

v) Culture-induced (blindly following an unsuitable culture like "living in the past", action orientated, eg "shoot first and ask questions" later, just do it, etc)

vi) Functional stupidity (tendency to reduce one's range of thinking and focus only on the narrow, technical aspects of the job, etc), ie"...You do the job correctly, but without reflecting on purpose or the wider context...... they stop asking searching questions about their work. In place of rigorous reflection, they become obsessed with superficial appearances. Instead of asking questions, they start to obey commands. Rather than thinking about outcomes, they focus on techniques getting things done. And the thing to do is often to create the right impression......great at doing things that look good. They tick boxes for management, please clients and placate the authorities......they also often do things that make little sense......Once in the grip of functional stupidity, you avoid thinking too much about exactly what you are doing, why you are doing it, and potential implications......you hope to avoid punishment and many worries that might come from deviation. They sidestepped the burdens of having to think too much and upsetting others by asking difficult questions. What's more, you are usually rewarded for doing this..."

Mats Alvesson et al 2016

Another way of looking at collective stupidity is called "motivated reasoning". It is our emotional bias, based on beliefs, preconceptions, etc, can sideline our intelligence, so that we get the answer we want. This can mean only searching for evidence to support our point of view and using elaborate reasoning to explain away any criticism or disagreement (despite their validity). In fact,

"...the more intelligent you are, the easier it is to build more creative arguments that support your own beliefs..."
David Robson 2019

Thus we use our intelligence to protect our existing political identities, irrespective of the facts. This can explain the polarisation around issues like global warming, gun control, etc..

This flawed thinking can be challenged by using some of the following techniques

- become devil's advocate and challenge your thinking (become your fiercest critic and try to think from the opposite point of view; this encourages you to evaluate your arguments on merit rather than simply using them to support your point of view)

- self-distancing (thinking like an independent person, eg third person or taking a helicopter point of view, ie get above the issue rather than in the issue)

- mental-time travel (imagine yourself in a week, a month, a year's time reviewing your decision)

- fine-tune your emotional awareness (people with richer and more precise emotional vocabulary tend to make better decisions)

- label your feelings (this can help to control them)

- emotional reflection

"...The aim is to pick apart and define the various feelings - whether you feel happy, joyous or excited, for instance; or sad, melancholy or bored - use precise language, rather than vague terms "good" or "bad" that we often use to describe our mood..."
David Robson 2019

 

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