Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi once observed that,
“when a field becomes too self-referential and cut off from reality, it runs the risk of becoming irrelevant.”
See page 89 of “Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention”
Silencing discussions that don’t agree with your world-view is a self-referential cut off from reality.
Due to the recent firing of an engineer at Alphabet (Harvard graduate James Damore), we would like to propose the following (new) logo that reflects the true spirit of Google’s culture:
If you haven’t read Damore’s memo on diversity (which was written to facilitate open and transparent discussion within Google), you can read it here.
Even Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, had to admit that Damore had valid points. But, Pichai defended his firing of Damore with some rather twisted logic. On the one hand, Pichai accused the engineer of violating Google’s HR policies. One the other hand, he said that the engineer was free to express his opinion.
Orwell would be proud.
1984 has arrived at Google and has now become its poster child.
This is exactly the kind of double speak that can be expected from politicians; or, in any organizational culture that is completely dysfunctional. Worse, Google is blind to its own predicament. And, hundreds, if not thousands, of posts on LinkedIn, twitter, Facebook, etc., have already pointed out the hypocrisy of Google’s leadership and their problem with groupthink.
Yes, there is no better description for what is infecting the cultures of so many companies today. It seems our leaders have forgotten that those who ignore the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them.
Groupthink has torpedoed more than one organization during the past 75 years since the phrase was coined. Merriam-Webster defines groupthink as:
“a pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent, and conformity to group values and ethics”
Wikipedia Defines groupthink as:
“…a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome.”
Wikipedia further states:
“Groupthink requires individuals to avoid raising controversial issues or alternative solutions, and there is loss of individual creativity, uniqueness and independent thinking. The dysfunctional group dynamics of the “ingroup” produces an “illusion of invulnerability” (an inflated certainty that the right decision has been made). Thus the “ingroup” significantly overrates its own abilities in decision-making and significantly underrates the abilities of its opponents (the “outgroup“). Furthermore, groupthink can produce dehumanizing actions against the “outgroup…”
See Wikipedia link above.
Groupthink is a major blind spot for many organizations. Google is no exception. They don’t think (or believe) it applies to them.
However, they are revealing alignment with their true vision (see our white paper on Creating a Unified Vision). Google has a stated value: “don’t be evil.” Apparently, expressing ideas that don’t agree with the established cultural norms of Google, is now defined as “evil” and led to the firing of Mr. Damore.
Dr. Csikszentmihalyi also stated that,
“some of the most creative breakthroughs occur when an idea that works well in one domain gets grafted to another and revitalizes it.”
See page 88 of “Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention”
In this case, Mr. Damore’s ideas came from another domain. Google has harmed its own creative culture and future creativity by it actions, thus stifling and snuffing out diversity of thought.
As pointed out in the Wikipedia article above, they have the illusion that they are right.
The firing of Mr. Damore is a perfect example of groupthink operating within Google. He dared to go against the culture and call out the leadership for their lack of true diversity. Whistle blowers rarely survive in groupthink environments. And, at minimum, it was career suicide to send out a 10-page memo like Damore’s regardless of its accuracy and importance to the discussion.
The key to preventing groupthink is to have a safe, honest, transparent environment in which all ideas can be discussed without fear of reprisal.
By firing Damore, all Google succeeded in doing was to further enforce and entrench a culture of fear. Instead of achieving the diversity that they state is desired, all they have done is to create a blah, monochrome culture (see new logo at the top of this post). And, in our opinion, reduced creativity.
Google’s message is clear: anyone that dissents from the group norm will be fired. Alarm bells should be going off everywhere. No one is safe, unless they completely agree with Google’s internal state-run media.
Anyone working at Google, but who does not agree with the forced, coerced group norm will lose their jobs should they make the mistake of voicing their opinions regardless of its truth. “Google” is now merely an acronym for:
Go Outside Our Groupthink … Lose Employment
Can Google be fixed?
Fixing Google needs to begin with the CEO. Unless Google’s CEO is willing to create a safe environment where truly diverse ideas, world-views, values, and attitudes are allowed and freely discussed, then it cannot be fixed.
Some are even calling for Pichai to resign. For example, “the august pages of the New York Times embraced a bit of controversy Friday morning, with the publication of another David Brooks special, “Sundar Pichai Should Resign as Google’s C.E.O.””
Usually, the fish rots from the head. And, David Brooks is correct, firing the CEO would be a first step towards cleaning up the cultural mess at Google.
To quote Dr. Csikszentmihalyi again regarding why creative organizations and people have become successful, he states,
“…one of the main reasons they had become successful was because they were truthful or honest.”
See page 166 of “Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention”
He talks about the importance of honesty in social science, business, politics and social reformation creativity saying this,
“In none of these fields could you be ultimately successful if you were not truthful, if you distorted the evidence, either consciously or unconsciously, for your own advantage.
See page 167 of “Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention”
Our next book, “Flow: Get everyone moving in the right direction … and loving it” has many anti-Patterns identified that will disrupt or eliminate high-performance Flow for individuals, teams and organizations. Google’s whack-a-mole approach in eliminating thought diversity unfortunately is a wonderful example of one of these anti-Patterns.
A transparent, safe and honest culture will always be required for true high-performance.
So, for those of us who don’t work for Google, is there a way to avoid groupthink?
A strong and effective antidote to groupthink that we have used during the past 30 years is the 4D Model:
You can discover its application in previous blogs, white papers and our previous book, The Nehemiah Effect.
However, to close this post, we want to bring attention to the first “D” – Define. Many times, a proper Definition of the problem is the first step to reaching a solution. Google thinks its problem is the public perception its actions caused.
The real problem is a culture that does not allow for diversity of thought and removes any dissenter. One would think that the President of Alphabet, Sergey Brin (a Russian-born American computer scientist, internet entrepreneur, and philanthropist, also co-founder of Google with Larry Page), with his heritage would keenly understand the negative and corrosive effects that removing dissenters has on a culture.
Our hope is that Google will deal honestly with the issues now publicly exposed within its culture. If they do not, our fear is the net result will be an anti-diverse, alphabet soup. And, remember, “the Truth will set you free.”
For those that are not familiar with Flow, it is what’s next for businesses and organizations that are ready to succeed regardless of the methods, frameworks or management tools that they use throughout their enterprise.
Are you ‘in the zone’ of optimal performance right now as a person, team or enterprise? Did you get there by accident or by focused intentional acts?
“Flow” gives you the tools and practices needed to create and maintain an optimal state of performance as an individual and in every area of your life.
Flow turbocharges your “business agile” leadership.
Our new book, “Flow: Get everyone moving in the right direction…and loving it” is scheduled for release in 2018:
eBook in January
Paperback in April (pre-orders will begin in March)