The Abilene Paradox means this to me

When I was in grad school in the 90’s I came across a book, The Abilene Paradox and Other Meditations on Management, by Jerry Harvey. It helped me understand the seemingly illogical decisions often made by companies, governments, gangs, any groups. And The Abilene Paradox is a good primer to help managers and execs avoid some pitfalls of group-think.

The story Dr Harvey tells starts with his wife and her parents, in Coleman TX, sitting and sweating in the hot hot day. Pop suggests they get in the car (unconditioned) and drive an hour or so up to Abilene for some BBQ. No one opposed the idea so they take the hot drive in the car, eat, and make the return trip.

Upon returning to the house an argument ensues — Pop, if I recall correctly, isn’t acting too pleased with having made this big trip on a hot day. And Jerry calls him on it saying, “But it was your idea”. And pop says, “Sh__, I was just making conversation.”

And so it goes with groups, Dr Harvey contends. A group will go along with an idea they wouldn’t individually support but they will agree “for the good of the group” — even though the idea very often isn’t good for any group.

A couple of examples Dr Harvey provides include driving up to Abilene for BBQ and America going to war in Vietnam. I could remember more but it was over 15 years ago — time to read the book again. Great lessons for members AND leaders of groups.

Thanks to Richard for remembering! It’s one of my favorite stories.

We’re in Mt Pleasant TX, heading for somewhere in northwestern Alabama tomorrow on the red highways. You can find where we are by clicking on the “locate us” link below.

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©2007-2012 Dreamstreamr

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4 responses to “The Abilene Paradox means this to me

  1. This is what i get for not keeping up with the blog… you guys were within 3 miles of the house when you crossed Lake Ray Hubbard the other day…. hope you are enjoying the weather in East Texas on your way through.

    Safe travels
    Dana

    • Well crud, we would have stopped too! Our weather has been great and we’ve just been begging for stops. I finally told Deb I wanted to get off the interstates and hit the red highways. Nicer pace and chance to see the towns. We’re marking your address so we can find you next time. Sorry we missed you. See us in Arkansas in this evening’s post.

      Jim & Deb http://dreamstreamr.com

  2. I know what you mean about the red highways.. i love to tow at 50 mph and not have to worry about big rigs and speed racers… plus there is so much to see off the interstate.

    you’ve got my email address, so next time you are making the North Texas crossing let us know.
    Dana

  3. I think it was Charles Kuralt who said that because of the Interstate Highway system it was possible to drive from coast to coast without seeing anything.

    I love reading your blog!

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