The Rise of the New Groupthink


15CAINCOVER articleInline The Rise of the New Groupthink


I just published a new New York Times piece on the “Rise of  the New Groupthink” (currently the #1 most emailed article!) — arguing that collaboration is in, but is not always conducive to creativity. What do you think? Please discuss here!

(The accompanying artwork was done by Andy Rementer at the Times, and is really very wonderful.)

Look forward to hearing your thoughts!





Place: McNally Jackson Bookstore, 52 Prince Street, NYC.

Date and Time: January 24, 7 p.m.

Event: Q and A discussion, with author Naomi Wolf asking the questions. I’ll be answering them! And I’d love to meet you afterwards.

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  1. Nathan Mielke on 14.01.2012 at 13:35 (Reply)

    Loved the article. As an educator, all we hear about is collaboration and Professional Learning Communities. I think we need to reflect on how we execute those plans. We all need autonomy. Can’t wait for the book to come out.

  2. Rebecca S. on 14.01.2012 at 14:32 (Reply)

    Loved it. Thank you so much. Just forwarded the link to my Head of School and Head of the Campus Master Plan Committee. We are looking at ways of restructuring several buildings on campus, and much of what I’ve heard so far is “open plan”-which makes me very, very nervous. Your article cuts right to the heart of our need to recharge and reflect in a quiet, private place. Thank you for being such an eloquent voice for the introverts.

  3. Maria on 14.01.2012 at 15:28 (Reply)

    I’ve always found that group work inhibits my creativity. Alone, I’m free to focus on the task at hand (or to not focus, if allowing my mind to wander will get me to my destination in a more elegant way.) In a group, my attention is splintered: I’m forced to navigate group dynamics while reining in my fear of judgment and an almost claustrophobic need to escape. Dealing with the world outside my head effectively strangles whatever creative thoughts I may have had.

    Love the blog and looking forward to finally getting my hands on the book!

  4. Sean MacGuire on 15.01.2012 at 05:22 (Reply)

    Ohhhh… good article. As a geek and inventor with a couple of patents, I can attest to the power of working alone. However, I’ve also worked with a partner on occasion and that can work as well, since with 2 people, there’s nowhere to hide.

    At my previous employer, I shunned conference calls (the worst group-think offender) since I remembered exactly nothing after them… making people email what they want to discuss first provides fewer rocks to hide under… they didn’t appreciate that.

    The downside of being a fundamental isolationist is my ability to communicate verbally suffered. The solution? Stand up comedy. You’re still alone with your thoughts, it’s just on stage in front of others… sort of a Toastmaters-on-crack experience.

    Thanks again for the great article!

  5. Gary on 15.01.2012 at 11:58 (Reply)

    I read this wonderful article yesterday and put it in my “genius” folder on delicious along with the wonderful article by Pico Iyer that you referenced last week and a few other articles that I consider truly outstanding. As an introvert myself I just loved your article and the confirmation that yes I do need my quiet time to be creative. Here is a gift to you of my favourite quotes which is this one from Paul Graham: ” I used to think running was a better form of exercise than hiking because it took less time. Now the slowness of hiking seems an advantage, because the longer I spend on the trail, the longer I have to think without interruption.”

  6. John on 15.01.2012 at 12:16 (Reply)

    Susan, Thank you again for bringing voice and clarity to an angst I have felt so long. Having worked in corporations and bureau-crazies for a long time, I know the cost of group think, both in productivity and lost potential for innovation. When managers come to accept this viewpoint, they will look for bureaucratic ways to implement it. It will be helpful to delineate when groupthink may be appropriate and when solitude is appropriate. For example, groupthink is helpful when addressing work flow problems for process improvement. People can speak out when one person’s idea will impact their own task. Brainstorming is another. One person’s idea sparks another person’s idea. However, it needs to stop at listing ideas and not get into prioritizing them. Retreats, though, are the worse. We introverts are forced into small rooms all day to be excited. That is living hell for me and I have paid the price of being branded as having an attitude. Introversion has cost me jobs because I don’t “hooah!”. Groupthink also gives low performers an arena for meddling in other people’s job rather than doing their own. Retreats have a place when structured appropriately. Much like religious retreats, there is time together in the morning and evening, then solitude to reflect, mixed with opportunity to seek one or two others for discussion during the day. Meals are shared, and lunch may feature an inspirational presentations. So, these may be ideas for study by some organizational expert. Empirical research will move us forward to direct when groupthink helps and when solitude helps. Thank you for leading us on to a world we all can live in.

  7. Dries Smit on 15.01.2012 at 18:14 (Reply)

    With almost ten years in a creative industry, I can attest to the paralyzing effects this “groupthink” has, not just on productivity, but also on morale (with the attending dire consequences for client relations). I have sat on countless “brainstorming” sessions which produce nothing but endless streams of spoken irrelevance. I have sat on countless staff meetings that seem to consist merely of charismatic people jockeying for position while real issues are explained away and pushed into the background. Therefore, it’s not surprising that masses of highly-capable people are flummoxed by these toxic environments on an ongoing basis instead of contributing meaningful work towards their organizations (yes, me being amongst them at certain times). I’m not against teamwork (I’m a great believer in Quality Circle methodology), but at the end of the day teams cannot produce work; only the people inside them can. A good question here would be “What can be done about this?”. I have encountered advice for key decision makers on how to counter groupthink, but there is little out there for people who are on the lower rungs of an organization to help them improve their lot; headphones simply isn’t enough.

    1. Susan Cain on 15.01.2012 at 21:07 (Reply)

      thank you for this, Dries. What is “Quality Circle methodology”?

  8. Sophon S on 15.01.2012 at 23:47 (Reply)

    Hi Susan,

    I greatly appreciated your article and am very interested to learn more about the premise and read your book. I do have a question/request, would it be possible for you to provide some references for the research that suggests people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption? I would really like to read more on the topic. Thank you very much.


    P.S. I can’t wait to read your book

  9. Benking on 16.01.2012 at 11:36 (Reply)

    I can not wait to read the book to see how you join group and individual times, as all have their purpose and place. Goethe wrote you need both: analysis & synthesis, like breathing in & out. Definitely people fancy one-eyed, oversimplification, others avoid it ! As we all know, there is no time in a group exercises to go deeper and find your time, so it is good and needed to step out, have people worshipping solitude and sanctuaries in order to get the acts together or visions real.
    I definitely see the need to sleep over a problem and go to a retreat to get the HEUREKA relief. We know it from innovators and I recommend Quickstorming, really a guide for changing mindsets and viewpoints, to innovate !!

    But again, you can not say that meetings need to be bad and unproductive. It is our typical meeting and dialog style that needs to be questioned. Typically only few really listen and are aware, as getting dumbed down by egomanic talkers. Fighters who conquer the agenda, their “thing” and “message”, afraid to be interrupted.
    This endless chain of fight for attention, access, and air-time needs to be broken, so we get a chance to subsume and resonate, have a chance to add elements and concepts to joint creations.

    I often opt in group settings for magic roundtable facilitation (clear time setting and with very simple rules) where participants can jointly question & explore & learn - and so empowers participants to look into themselves and respond and get new ideas and approaches. So I believe, it all depends on what the objectives, assumptions and expectations are and who is on the “deck”: Stakeholders, Risktakers, Drivers, Movers,… ?? or Onlookers, Observers, Lobbyists, Obstructionists. So maybe enjoy as we also need to communicate and not only innovate in isolation, but instead encourage and add surprise and difference (we call it encounters):

    Groups when self-organized, not following the “mould” of a controller-type “head”, but instead are left alone or served of an invisible facilitator-type can be very successful, specially when participants can float around, learn from another group, cross-pollinate, expand, … just check the brother of the open-forum, the OPEN SPACE method, where “butterflies” and “bumblebees” are abound, and others are in the sauna- pool-bar-wherever are taking their walk or retreat to breath out and reflect, typically not aware how they unconsciously doing the hard work needed (typically in a nap). So I feel that should be also a message needed in the book: Quite, but also speak-up and stand-up !!

    There is much more to Groupthink and Spreadthink, terms created by John Warfield. He looked into group dynamics, how groups avoid and settle on overclaims and oversimplification, common denominator: hate or monotony.
    People have to communicate, to check what people not only say, but what they mean!! and so learning how issues look like from the other side of the street - or from above !!

    I was electrified when I learned about a book on new GROUP THINK as I feel it is very much needed. But I strongly hope it builds on the history of dialogic design as we need also to find ways to improve our deliberation, cherish the differences and diversities - Just getting into a cocoon of sweet isolation is not enough.
    So maybe there is a chance to improve both sides of the coin, maybe to innovate, maybe for reconciliation. I strongly recommend to check out one of the pillars of group communication and mediation: John Warfield and maybe this article on 40 years looking into participatory, normative and prognostic futures helps ( ) as we have to create futures: Imagine, negotiate, co-create and make real.

    See? Stepping out of the ring, but also returning to the table.
    So we need the QUIET - not only quietness. There is a high need for QUIET.

  10. Tom Mawhinney on 16.01.2012 at 15:47 (Reply)

    For your reading pleasure:

  11. Dr. Tony Bolden on 17.01.2012 at 15:04 (Reply)

    Great NYT article, Susan - thanks for the insightful discussion-starter.

    I penned a short article on my blog (“How do you lead an Introvert?” - because I see a parallel between the embrace of the management paradigm of the month and how it can affect the performance of those you lead. I’m a big believer in collaboration and team-based ideation and synergy, yet your article reminded me of the importance of understanding how to align one-on-one with your associates to holistically increase performance - and morale. One could argue that groupthink (or even “grouplead”) could be an enemy to successful situational leadership.

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1. There’s a word for “people who are in their heads too much”: thinkers.

2. Our culture rightly admires risk-takers, but we need our “heed-takers” more than ever.

3. Solitude is a catalyst for innovation.

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