Abilene Paradox

Come To Terms: The Abilene Paradox

A feature/cause of many poor or daft decisions by groups or committees, in which the collective (unanimous or group) decision is considered wrong or silly by individual members, and/or is clearly wrong or silly from a rational standpoint.

The term is from Jerry B Harvey’s book The Abilene Paradox and other Meditations on Management (Jossey-Bass, 1988): a family decide to go to Abilene, as suggested by a family member who believes others might want to go, although he had no strong personal view himself. The trip was a waste of time, after which it emerged that no-one wanted to go. The wrong group decision was caused by individual reserve and politeness, faulty assumption/assessment of the true wishes of others, combined with the urge to ‘follow the herd’. The group’s members form false impressions of the group’s preference and blindly follow it.

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 “Come To Terms” is our new blog series on powerful and evocative terms that our clients encounter that challenge them to seriously consider the path they have taken or want to take.

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