[post originally published in 2015 elsewhere]

I responded to Jaap’s interesting post

Thanks for this, Jaap. Groupthink is more than a danger in this type of group.

I was put to mind of Heli Nurmi’s excellent engagement with her experiences with this kind of group (It is worth reading the comments) and of course the interesting article that Jenny and Frances wrote which gathered data of the impact on people of ‘the tension between openness and cohesion’ that Daniel talks about.

Heli concludes her post with: “BUT if we are a crowd or network or tribe or whatever is the new concept which describes cMOOCs, we should have new concepts for the process. Or, do we deny the group process and “just network”? Do we need a new ethics for free networking?”

You say that massive connection is a potential way to avoid the danger. This obscures the issue that if an in-group exists, then newcomers may not be forthcoming or may come into the group and leave without influencing it. If divergence of views are defended (trying to convince divergent thinkers of the rightness of the in-group’s views) or just not actively encouraged and only ‘acceptable’ difference included, then groupthink is a real danger. Who defines acceptable? The in-group. How do newcomers join? By learning and blending in the existing culture. This happens in all groups unconsciously, none of us are exempt. An external voice, often in the shape of a facilitator, is needed to help the group see unconscious patterns of interaction. Humans are not aware of their process, and we make what psychologists call the ‘fundamental cognitive error’ daily when we tell ourselves that we can be. This video may give some substance to munch on. Cognitive Psychologists summing up research.

Here is how they introduce the video: “Who better than ourselves to know why we do what we do, what’s important to us, and how we feel? But it seems that we’re largely oblivious to the determinants of our own behaviour, we misjudge how long tasks will take, we think of ourselves as exceptional and unique, and we don’t know what makes us happy.”

I believe we ignore this research at our peril – it explains why humans keep repeating age old patterns. It has taught me to pause, relax and open at precisely the times when I feel like defending. And this is a lifetime practice.

Thank you for a post that help me reflect on issues that matter when working online.