retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Mistakes happen and that’s really not a bad thing. As an ice skating instructor once told me, if you never fall you are never trying anything new or hard.

So I’ve got no problem with mistakes - provided we learn from them and don’t make the same error over and over.

But there are mistakes that fall into another category such as the recent kerfuffle over the Bud Light label that strangely seemed to excuse excesses of all kind. That set off an interesting discussion here on MNB about who was missing from the room when that decision was made: women, fathers, husbands, brothers…who? Why was there no voice to articulate the cluelessness of the message?

I’m going another way on this. It’s possible the right people were present but were overwhelmed by the power of group thinking. We’ve all seen it happen: an idea comes up in a meeting and thanks to the strange dynamics of groups, dissenters get squelched or decide this isn’t the time to make a stand. Don’t we all love team players?

Breaking the power of group thinking requires something radical and luckily the solution lies in a zombie movie (how do I end up quoting those so often?): World War Z. This isn’t one of my favorite flicks, but I was compelled to watch it by a retailer who saw the lesson on group thinking and knew my interest in business lessons from movies. (In case you missed it somehow, Kevin and I authored a book on the subject: click here)

World War Z has the usual plot line of zombies taking over the world with one strange exception: the country of Israel was stunningly prepared for the moment. Brad Pitt plays a UN specialist who flies to Israel to learn how that happened.

An Israeli official explains that his country’s leaders learned a harsh lesson about group thinking when none of them took seriously the threat of war in 1973. At the time all agreed the neighboring Arab states would never attack so soon after the Israeli victory in 1967. The group was entirely wrong. The Arabs attacked and Israel barely survived.

Following that debacle, a decision was made. Whenever the leadership group of 10 was presented with a potential issue a new rule was enforced: if the first nine people all agreed, the tenth person was required to take the contrary point of view and plan for that outcome. In the case of World War Z, that meant a cryptic warning of a zombie attack was laughed off by nine, while the tenth began preparing for what might, and did, come.

In business, our zombie problem is group thinking. Imagine if your company had a rule: anytime a decision is unanimously supported by the management team (or whoever else) one person in the room is required to be the contrarian. The crowd could still make the call, but the opposing view would need a vigorous representation, which might cause some reflection and even modification.

Think of some of the stories we had here last week, whether it was the Bud Light label or Target failing to institute controls on the launch of its Lily Pulitzer line. Isn’t it possible one person in the room might have seen the situation differently, felt differently, but the power of the crowd squelched any consideration of alternative scenarios? Might a simple exercise of contrarian thinking opened some eyes?

Gathering group support is always important and naysayers are frequently derided. Yet some simple World War Z thinking could be an interesting way to challenge ourselves and stop us from marching in lockstep.

After all, we aren’t zombies…are we?

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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