Physician Outlook

Knowing Our Best Interests

Dr. Cook shares insights through stories of past failures of people and companies who succumbed to “groupthink.” Instead of embracing the “groupthink” phenomenon we should surround ourselves with those who think differently than we do in order to view a situation from a different perspective to avoid disaster. In order to see the errors of our ways it is in our best interest to receive criticism rather than to self-destruct.


According to Judeo-Christian tradition, it didn’t take Adam and Eve very long to demonstrate that they couldn’t be trusted to act responsibly with what they had been given.  The history that followed is replete with example after example of people making bad decisions.  In many cases, the detail of those biblical stories is hard to verify.  But certain themes repeat themselves predictably in human behavior.  Time after time after time, greed, ambition, or unjustified confidence in one’s own judgement gets in the way of common sense. The result is often an outcome that turns out badly for everybody.     


In some cases, these stories focus on an individual, like Julius Caesar, for example.  No doubt, when he made that decision to cross the Rubicon, he thought he was doing something really smart.  And he did manage to do some things that made life better for everybody.  For example, getting the calendar straightened out, so that crops got planted in the same month every year was a real winner.  But unfortunately, in the process of doing all the good things on his resume, he seriously irritated some very important people. Within five years of his wade across the Rubicon, he was murdered by a crowd of his political opponents.  


But instances of poor judgement by powerful people are not confined to the ancient world.  There are plenty of examples right here in our own time.  One of my favorites involves a four-man band that auditioned in the London studios of Decca Records in 1962.  After hearing what they had to offer, the executive in charge of talent at Decca told the group’s manager there was no future for these youngsters.  He opined that “guitar groups are finished” and sent them on their way.  Then he watched from the sidelines as The Beatles became the most recognizable name in pop music over the next 30 years or so.


Interestingly, catastrophic errors in judgment are not confined to individuals.  In fact, many of the most ill-advised decisions are made by groups of people who fall prey to “group think.”  A remarkable example of this is the Eastman Kodak company.  In the mid 1970s, Kodak had already developed the first digital camera.  Unfortunately for them, they decided to shelve this new “toy” for fear that it would have an adverse effect on the profits of their film sales.  Then, to add insult to injury, they had an opportunity to be the “official film” of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.  They passed on that offer, reasoning that they had no real competition in the U.S. film market.  As a result, Fuji seized the opportunity to claim a share in that market and dealt a devastating blow to Kodak profits.  The financial damage of these and other decisions would send Kodak to chapter 11 bankruptcy in the early 21st century.  And remember, these were not the decisions of an individual.  They were agreed upon by a highly respected group of executives and board members with a sterling record of success in the past.


These stories point out something very important about human behavior.  It is amazingly common how often we underestimate our capacity to make bad decisions, both individually and in groups.  We are remarkably disinclined to search diligently for weaknesses in our own judgement.  And when we work in groups, we often compound the problem by surrounding ourselves with people who either think like we do or are unwilling to be the lone voice who challenges the group.  The result is often error that compounds itself exponentially, and frequently with devastating results.


I think we all would do well to intentionally put ourselves in the company of people who are willing to question our judgement.  One way to do this might be to search out a mentor who is willing to ask difficult questions and give us unfiltered feedback on our own opinions.  Another option might be a conscious effort to invite individuals with differing ideas and opinions into our organization to help guard against the “groupthink” phenomenon.  The option of hiring a personal coach has also proven to be very effective at promoting truly objective self-assessment and goal setting.  


Humans have a lengthy history of failure to think objectively.  Better to invite criticism than to risk disaster.


To read more of Dr. Randy Cook's blog "The Script Pad" go to Dr. Cook is also host of MD Coaches, LLC's weekly Rx for Success Podcast found at


MD Coaches, LLC is a company dedicated to developing and empowering physicians to realize a greater satisfaction in their roles. Understanding the challenges and operational concerns for both physicians and hospital administrators. MD Coaches utilizes experience and coaching skils to support their physician clients in establishing strategies for positive career progression.


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