What is it about?
Pick up any management textbook and you’ll likely find the concept of groupthink attributed to social psychologist Irving Janis. Janis developed the concept in the early 1970s by studying US foreign policy failures such as not anticipating Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbour and the escalation of the Vietnam War. He found in these cases a tendency for individuals to suppress opinions that challenged the group’s view. Janis defined groupthink as a collective desire for consensus that overrides the realistic appraisal of alternatives and leads to poor decision making. Janis warned managers to look out for groupthink’s symptoms and to treat them by applying simple remedies. But Irving Janis is not the originator of the term groupthink. 20 years earlier, an article titled Groupthink appeared in Fortune magazine, written by social critic William H Whyte. Groupthink was Whyte’s diagnosis of the malaise affecting management thinking in 1950s America. He was dismayed that groups had become a tyranny that crushed individuality. In his best-selling book The Organization Man, published in 1956, Whyte extended his concept of groupthink and gave it a new name – the social ethic. So why is Janis, rather than Whyte credited as the founder of groupthink in today’s management textbooks, and why do they prefer Janis’ conception, to Whyte’s original view? Our article explores this and outlines how recovering Whyte’s ideas can inspire us to think differently about management today.
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This page is a summary of: The forgotten ‘immortalizer’: Recovering William H Whyte as the founder and future of groupthink research, Human Relations, February 2022, SAGE Publications, DOI: 10.1177/00187267211070680.
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