Tag Archives: group culture

Groupthink Makes Us Sheep-ish

Clive Thompson has an insightful piece on groupthink in this month’s issue of Wired:

Can you persuade someone to like a product by telling them that it’s popular? Do teenagers like Taylor Swift because she’s good or because everyone else they know likes her — so hey, she must be good, right?

Sociologist Robert Merton dubbed this tendency to base what we think we think on what other people are doing the “self-fulfilling prophecy” in 1949, and since then social scientists have tried to measure how powerful it actually is. Now, based on some studies conducted with the help of the Internet, it seems clear that we’re often just sheep.

Thompson goes on to describe a controlled experiment in which investigators tested the relationship between song ratings and the total number of downloads.  Did the subjects download the songs they actually liked or the songs they thought other people liked?  Read on.

So what does this have to do with fraternity life?  Everything.  Fraternities tend to go downhill when the leaders make poor decisions (or allow other members to make poor decisions).  And the root cause of these decisions is often groupthink and other phenomena of group psychology.

Do hazers perpetuate the arbitrary treatment of new members because they actually think it works, or because they see everyone around them doing it?  Teach your members to think for themselves and watch things change for the better.  Simply making them aware of these phenomena can make all the difference.

Learn more about groupthink and how to prevent it here.

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Why Good People Make Bad Decisions

I’m currently re-reading The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil by Philip Zimbardo. I’m still amazed with how relevant the book’s message can be to group culture and specifically fraternity and sorority life. Here are some excerpts from the introduction:

The Lucifer Effect is my attempt to understand the process of transformation at work when good or ordinary people do bad or evil things. We will deal with the fundamental question “What makes people go wrong?” But instead of resorting to a traditional religious dualism of good versus evil, of wholesome nature versus corrupting nurture, we will look at real people engaged in life’s daily tasks, enmeshed in doing their jobs, surviving within an often turbulent crucible of human nature. We will seek to understand the nature of their character transformations when they are faced with powerful situational forces.

When I first read the book, I was initially turned off by what I mistakenly thought was the author’s dismissal of personal responsibility. I falsely thought (before finishing the book) Zimbardo’s conclusion was that humans should not be held responsible for bad or evil behavior because we are only products of our group’s culture. But Zimbardo cleared up this misconception just a few pages into the book:

Throughout this book, I repeat the mantra that attempting to understand the situational and systemic contributions to any individual’s behavior does not excuse the person or absolve him of her from responsibility in engaging in immoral, illegal, or evil deeds.

And Zimbardo explains here how he concludes the book on a positive note, with a discussion of heroes:

We have come to think of our heroes as special, set apart from us ordinary mortals by their daring deeds of lifelong sacrifices. Here we recognize that such special individuals do exist, but that they are the exception among the ranks of heroes, the few who make such sacrifices. They are a special breed who organize their lives around a humanitarian cause, for example. By contrast, most others we recognize as heroes are heroes of the moment, of the situation, who act decisively when the call to service is sounded. So, The Lucifer Effect journey ends on a positive note by celebrating the ordinary hero who lives within each of us.

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Organizational Culture

Chapter officers are often looking for the silver bullet to solve the big problems.  Bad grades?  Just craft the perfect scholarship plan with the right incentives.  Low numbers?  Develop a year-round recruitment plan using Sigma Nu’s Recruitment Bluebook.  Poor meeting attendance?  Implement a complex points system with fines and rewards.  So why do these expertly-crafted plans often fail to show visible results?  Could it be the group culture?

What is group culture?  The Washington Post’s leadership blog explains:

Corporate culture is the system of beliefs, norms, practices and values that guide an organization – determining how people act, make decisions and govern their affairs. It represents the way things really work, how decisions are really made, how emails and communications are really composed, how promotions are really earned and how people are really treated. (emphasis mine)

Announcing change and a new culture is easy. Making it happen is hard.

So how do you change group culture?  It’s simple, really.  There’s a reason Jim Collins wrote an entire chapter about ‘getting the right people on the bus’:

First, align your recruitment practices with your chapter’s vision.  If you don’t want a chapter full of deadbeat partiers then stop using parties and alcohol to recruit new members.

Second, expel the members who don’t uphold the values of Sigma Nu.  Period.  Not next year, not next semester, and not after they’ve promised to change for the seventeenth time.  Pick up the phone, call your Leadership Consultant to learn Trial Code and make it happen.  Now.

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