Sunstein and Hastie Must Be Smart, and Nice Too!

I finished reading Wiser: Getting Beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter.

The blogpost title references one of the problems with groups identified by Sunstein and Hastie (page 98), which is that we tend to respect and like people more once they have told us something that we already know.

I predicted, after reading the introduction, that I would find the book interesting and I did, though perhaps largely because I am in agreement with the authors’ recognition of the importance of dissenting opinions being heard. From the conclusion (page 214):

Wise leaders embrace a particular idea of what it means to be a team player: not to agree with the majority’s current view, but to add valuable information. Leaders create a culture that does not punish, and even rewards, the expression of dissident views. They do so to protect not the dissident, but the group.

Regular readers of this blog will not be at all surprised that this definition of being a team player appeals to me.

I had no problem identifying with the explanations in part one of the book in regards to where group decision-making can go wrong. I had more difficulty with the solutions offered in part two, perhaps because many of the examples related to business, fact-finding, or forecasting type decisions.

I think that education policy decision-making could be improved by being, as much as possible, based on facts as best they can be ascertained as opposed to facts we hope or wish to be true, and that some of the solutions offered by authors could help.

But what if decision-makers (or those who get to select the group members) don’t want to be better in this regard? What if there aren’t any anxious leaders on the ballot, just humble, pliant, complacent ones or malcontents? What if the decisions to be made are more about values and priorities than about facts and forecasting? I’m not sure this book provides much guidance on these points.

All in all, an interesting read–and a book I’d like to see school/education leaders read and think about.