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20 Aug 2012

Extremely Unified Groups: More Aggressive, More Destructive

Groups change people; a person in a group is very different alone. Subliminal influences encourage groups to accept those who adopt its ways and to excommunicate those who don’t. Since new approaches disrupt the status quo, creative people often fall in the latter.

The Stanford Prison Experiment (August 1971) clearly showed what can happen to individuals when they form groups without constraints: abnormal behavior erupts from normal individuals. Daisy Yuhas’ article, “Emotions in Lockstep” (Scientific American Mind, May/June 2012 edition), follows a similar theme.  She discusses the work (Synchrony, Compliance, and Destructive Obedience) of Scott Wiltermuth from University of Southern California Marshall School of Business in which he:

. . . demonstrated that cultural practices involving synchrony can enable people to bind other people to them, making those others more likely to comply with others requests and engage in destructive obedience.

In other words, when people perform synchronized movements, their emotions become more unified and more open to aggressive and destructive behavior than when they aren’t synchronized with others. Thus, as Yuhas writes:

Military leaders have long known that marching in unison makes for a tight-knit platoon. . . . A more tightly knit team, it seems, is a fiercer foe.

However, the challenge is that while good can come from such unification so can bad. The determining factor will often be the leader. This only reinforces the importance of the environment and culture that a leadership team establishes for its enterprise.

While negative manifestations might not be as overtly destructive as in the Stanford and Wiltermuth experiments, a culture overemphasizing standardization, compliance and planning will covertly retard an enterprise’s ability to adapt, create and innovate. One of the main ways this will occur is by the gradual expulsion of disruptors and dissenters.


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