William H Whyte coined the word group-think in 1952 and the concept was explored further by research psychologist Irving Janis in his 1972 publication, Victims of Groupthink: a psychological study of foreign policy decisions and fiascoes.
His research extended to why the attack on Pearl Harbour went unforeseen, why the Bay of Pigs assault ended in a debacle and why Lyndon B Johnson escalated the Vietnam War in such a tragic fashion.
Janis said each of these events was indelibly shaped by committee decision-making and that individual creativity had been lost within the committee process, which he described as: “A mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive ingroup, when the members’ strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative action.”
He contended that group-think gave lie to the supposed excellence of teamwork and actually led to erroneous decisions being reached.
In 1977, he suggested a number of symptoms of the groupthink malaise, which resonate some 34 years later. Consider these negatives – illusions of invulnerability, unquestioned belief in the morality of the committee, failing to examine alternative actions, making irrational decisions, deferring to figures of authority within the group, failing to seek expert independent opinion and being selective when gathering evidence.
Janis posited that such defects must inevitably result in flawed decision-making with negative consequences. He then considered how groupthinking results in inappropriate methodology, such as failing to survey objectives and alternative actions, refusing to consider the risks of the proposals, acceptance of shoddy information research, the application of bias in such research and a failure to prepare a contingency plan.
You know where this is going, just as most of us know where consumer choice and access to advice is headed after 2012.
Some opinionated individuals say advisers are not, and should not, act as social workers. The term social worker is used dismissively and portrays the deliverer as a businessman both incisive and insightful and commanding of a focused approach.
Then there is the resulting implication that the social worker is of a lower social stratum, evincing barely a notion of how to run a successful business. The reality is the majority of smaller IFAs do offer a service that frequently borders on social work, even psychological counselling.
Advisers are often asked to assist one or other of a relationship that has foundered. Consider how many advisers will turn away an elderly couple who require reassurance their small nest egg is safe? How many of those who assist such consumers do so without charging them?
The world after the RDR, where everything has a price, offers scant hope for these people. We constantly hear about firms that are segment-ing their client banks and dismissing the low-income-producers and, reflective of the Olympic countdown, the search for high income-producing consumers is on.
Alan Lakey is partner at Highclere Financial Services