Thursday, February 14, 2008

Group Think? I Think Not

When a group of people spend a lot of time together, they may start to notice that they have more in common than the one or two things that brought them together as a group in the first place. I may have talked about it before, but many of the Pirates like Joss Whedon, Neil Gaiman, Lost, Heroes and chocolate. We originally met in another group, where we came together because we want to improve our writing. We became the Pirates, I think, partly because we have some of these things in common in addition to liking each other's writing and respecting each other's opinion.

After a group is together for a while, though, there may be a tendency to develop Group Think. If one member of the group likes something, then all members must like it too. I was a little worried that this might be happening when I got to the gathering last Thursday. DB, Ali and Nicole were already there. Now I know the Ali and Mary are experienced jewelry makers and that DB is learning. Nicole was asking Ali if she did any metalworking because Nicole was thinking of taking a class. DB piped up and said, "The one at Bemis? I'm thinking of taking that, too." So now we have 4 people making jewelry. Do I have to start making jewelry? No, of course, not. And the conversation shifted to another topic and no issue.

Would it be a bad thing if all the members started making jewelry? Probably not. As a matter of fact, I'd love to see what sorts of the things the guys came up with. But where there can be a problem is if the writing starts to homogenize and the feedback all sounds the same. I've seen this happen before to some extent, and it's not a good thing. After some objective thought, I really don't see that happening here. Everyone has a pretty strong personality and feels comfortable standing up for their own position. And there are very distinctive and different voices in the work. In some instances tastes vary dramatically.

Something that drove that home for me is something Jenny wrote me. The group has all pretty much signed up on one of those library social sites. You join, list all the books you've read or own or both and then rate them on a scale of 1-5. You make a list of friends that you want to share that information with. After about a week of listing and rating books, but not yet writing reviews on why I ranked them where I did, I got an email from Jenny. She said she thought it was funny that we had read so many of the same books, but ranked them differently.
We both liked Haunted by Chuck Palaniuk, but she gave it a 5 while I gave it a 3. I thought it was a well-written, provocative book. Funny and horrifying at the same time. And a real page turner. But I haven't sought out any of his other books. I didn't relate to any of the characters. Didn't mind putting the book down when I finished. So I liked it (3), but didn't think it was awesome (5). Jenny obviously felt differently

These differences are as important for the health of the group as the similarities. I think we'll continue as a group for a while. That makes me smile.


Ali said...

Good points. The fact that we all like Joss is cool. If we all start dressing identitically, it's less cool and more creepy.

Reminds me of an episode of Angel that's in season two (Happy Aniversary) with the physicist who tries to stop time. Specifically, it reminds me of the speech Lorn gave him about how music is only music because you keep moving from one note to another. If you hold one note forever, "it's just noise."

Not quite a direct parallel, but it's that same idea that variety is good. It's one song, and the notes all fit together in a way that makes sense, but the notes are different.

Jenna said...

Groupthink is actually more than what you're describing. It's more that people don't think decisions through or that they come to conclusions based on information that is already in line with their thinking. Like, let's say one of you is thinking that you should get a peanut butter cake for someone's birthday. A second person in the group might say, "Yeah, peanut butter is great!" The third person might pipe up and say, "I think the birthday girl is actually allergic to peanuts," but because groupthink is going on with the other two people, they will ignore him and buy the cake any way. Then you'll wind up with a birthday cake that the birthday girl is allergic to because information presented did not go in line with what was already decided by the group. That's groupthink. It's all about decision making, not about preferences. You call all think Joss Whedon is the next messiah and still not be influenced by groupthink.