Come To Terms: The Abilene Paradox

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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