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Why Groupthink Ruins Good Designs and How to Prevent It

Joe Darnell March 31, 2021 · 4 min read

Groupthink occurs when a domineering manager or team member shuns individuality, and the team feels they should conform to avoid confrontation rather than save a project from a fatal flaw they have spot.
If you let the aspirations of the creative team get ahead of common sense and vigilance, you are slipping into deceptive groupthink. Good design sparks individuality, and simultaneously captures the attention of the crowd (and they cheer). We all like a bold idea, a nuanced style, a creative approach to embody design work. Groupthink stands in your way if you let it.

Groupthink Leads to Mediocrity

Groupthink is a form of peer pressure, which leads to following the top dog, whether or not his/her ideas have merit. Sadly, the leader’s interests may stray away from the project’s. Creativity will suffer, if not more…

Avoid Rationalizing

Rationalizing away shortcomings of a design is always a bad idea, because even if your boss doesn’t pick up on them, hundreds of others might. It often creates a stumbling block because customers don’t value your conformity to the creative team’s leadership. This means the designers put the wrong objectives ahead of craftsmanship, which leads to project failure.

Ego Check

Everyone thinks their ideas are best, and that you should immediately agree with their approach. This is bad news if your leadership puts irrational plans ahead of the team’s insights. It’s human nature though, and it’s a foolish trait we need to overcome if we’re to thwart groupthink.

Take Yourself Out of the Equation

What would you tell your boss or client (politely) if you didn’t have your ego or their ego to worry about? Think about this continually while you work through creative projects.
When you think that something will hurt a project’s goals that will make the leadership look bad, tell them—I bet they’d like to know! Bring it to their attention privately to show a little respect, and encourage them to get feedback from the rest of the team soon if they doesn’t see eye-to-eye with you.
And above all else, have a solution or two available before you point out the problem, so you’re at the ready to replace a negative with a positive.

Serve the Project, Not the Team

Constantly encourage the team to serve the project—not their own ambitions.
Everyone gets excited with the new possibilities a project will create. This often leads to a surge of creative ideas at the start. It’s easy to daydream, and brainstorming is often just that. Too much groupthink early on leads to biting off more than we can chew.

How Disney Avoided Groupthink

Walt Disney Studios, back in Mr. Disney’s day, had a great workflow to avoid the pitfalls of groupthink. They had one room for brainstorming and another for critical thinking. When creatives started a new film, they would allow the themselves to think big in the brainstorming room, where the team would speak freely.
When all the wild ideas were in, Disney held another meeting in the other room where they had the liberty to play the devil’s advocate. They would dissect their film without discrimination of any potential criticism. The team would wrestle with the film’s concepts to be sure the good ones were tried and true.
Then they would make their film. This system positively reinforces good ideas ahead of peer pressure.

How Do You Battle Groupthink?

We’ve only approached the tip of the iceberg that is groupthink. What do you do when blind reasoning takes hold of your team?
Header illustration: Looking at Monitor

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About the Author
Author
Joe Darnell

Joe is a UI and graphic designer with prior experience as the creative director for three media-based businesses. He has a passion for both web design and graphic design with about 15 years of experience in the media industry. Joe likes delighting people and making ideas and things simpler for them.

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