Groupthink: the cost of collective stupidity


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Years ago I sat next to a lovely young man on a plane. Dressed for success, he exuded professionalism.

SD: You’re all dressed up to see a client, I bet. You look great.
YM: Thanks. I am. I’m going to offer my services free to a prospect for 2 weeks and hope he accepts.
SD: I bet you hope that you’ll prove you’re worth him paying for your services.
YM: I do! But I don’t know if any of it will pan out.
SD: What’s stopping you from facilitating him and his team through their pre-sales decision making so they all realize they need you and are willing to pay for you?
YM: You sound just like this book I just read on helping buyers buy. It was brilliant, and the author says prospects don’t have problems with our solutions, merely understanding their risk of change. And sellers should lead them through the change process before we push product details. I thought that was smart.
SD: (holding back a smile, as he was of course talking about my work): So what’s stopping you now from helping these folks first manage their change so they can identify as buyers before giving them free work?
YM: I told my boss I thought we should bring her in to train us all. I got him a copy of her (my!) book Dirty Little Secrets. He read half of it then told me it was crazy stuff, that that isn’t the way to sell, and to not do anything she suggests. So I’m sort of stuck.

His boss would rather risk the cost of his travel, his time, his opportunity cost and the prospect’s goodwill than add new sales skills and have a much greater chance of closing the sale.


Groupthink. A form of structural stupidity. Going along with the status quo because…. because what? I don’t understand why the risk of change with a credible chance of success is greater than the cost of the known – and accepted! – failure.

Failure is such a known quantity in several industries that companies build it into their budgets. They hire 9x more sales folks due to the 95% failure rate that sales models achieve; waste time and resource on managing resistance during problematic change initiatives (85 – 95% fail rate); lose clients when problems aren’t alleviated by coaches (80%); waste money and time on training when conventional training has an 80% fail rate; and lose perfectly good employees when their moral and creativity quotients are low. And yet they keep doing what they’ve always done, getting the same results. Hello Einstein!

As an original thinker and developer of proven (and pioneering) models that correct for, and entirely avoid, these failures, I’ve been running into this blind spot for decades.

By generating values-based decisions via facilitating the mind-brain connection, I actually teach folks how to get into their brains to find best answers and congruent choices. I’ve taught the models to over 100,000 folks in many global corporations in most industries since my first course to KLM in1987 called Helping Buyers Buy.


But no matter how many books (9, including Selling with Integrity, the first sales book on the New York Times Business Bestseller’s list) and articles (1000+) I’ve written, how many people I’ve spoken to on radio, tv, podcasts, keynotes over forty years, or Fortune 500 clients I’ve successfully trained (many), I still get major pushback. And I absolutely cannot understand why folks prefer the status quo when their failures are notorious.

Here are some real comments following highly successful Buying Facilitation® pilots in which my course participants closed far more, in one quarter the time, than the control group:

(Proctor and Gamble): Given the speed of closing and increased sales we’d experience if everyone used Buying Facilitation®, we’d need to speed up manufacturing, hire more support folks, buy more trucks… It would cost $2,000,000,000 and take us 2 years to recoup. We’re not set up for that.

(Boston Scientific): We got a 53% increase in closed sales and the sales folks loved it. Thanks, Sharon-Drew. But the model is too controversial for easy adoption.

(Kaiser Permanente): We pay sellers for numbers of visits and we have no way to pay per closed sales. [Note: their sales went up 600%, from 110 visits/18 closed sales to 27 visits/25 closed sales.]

(WmBlair & Co): This is crazy stuff. This isn’t sales. You folks just got lucky (9x control group, and sales continued at that rate for the next three years I followed them.).

I could go on. Thankfully, early adopters have hired me to train sales and consulting departments in many global corporations over the years. But too often my innovative concepts get compared against the standard tools and folks either don’t believe me (client success studies aside) or can’t get buy-in from their teams to do anything differently.


I can only assume the perceived risks of change are too high for most folks to seek out innovation. But I believe the risks of following Groupthink are even higher.

  • You always get what you always got – regardless of what else is possible.
  • You use resource (people, money, time) to build strategies and practices around what has a high likelihood of minimal success, low adoption, high cost.
  • You assume that the known fail rate – in sales, coaching, OD, change management, consulting, marketing, training – is what ‘is’ and build the failure into a project.

In my map of the world, when I see something failing after a fair trial period, I change the thinking behind the problem, not merely move around the chairs. But I seem to be atypical; I believe failure is nothing but a tap on the shoulder reminding me to consider doing something different. Here are my guesses as to why companies maintain models that demonstrably fail:

  • You don’t know what’s worth taking a risk on.
  • You build in or hide the fallout (Sales operations record real costs – outsourced lead gen, for example – in the cost center and closed sales in the profit center) so your success ratio appears larger than it really is.
  • You don’t know who or what to trust.
  • You’d rather go along with the known failure than a possible unknown failure.
  • You can’t imagine a better way.
  • You don’t know how to strategize using a different model.
  • You assume the failure is an accurate version of what’s possible.
  • You assume that since everyone else is failing, you’re safe.
  • You assume that since the model is the standard model used in your field, it must be the best option.

Yet resistance, non-compliance, failure to close, failure to learn, failure to not permanently adopt new behaviors, is failure that you’re maintaining.


Here are some questions to help you consider what you’d need to possibly go outside the box to prevent failure going forward:

  • What would you need to know to be willing to consider the prospect of doing something different(ly) even though your colleagues continue their current activity?
  • What would you need to know or believe differently to be willing to consider your consistently low success rates ‘failure’ can be turned around by trialing something new?
  • How will you know when you haven’t found a fix for a problem (i.e. resistance, low close rates, low learning retention etc.) and the risk of an innovative solution is less than the risk of the status quo?
  • What colleagues would you need to include in thought discussions and noodling as you consider the risk of doing something new?
  • If you decide you’re willing to discover innovative approaches to consistent problems, how will you know who or what to trust? What would you need to know or understand to be assured that your trust is well placed?
  • How will you know that a possible solution is truly innovative? That you can trust the pitch or the hype?

Personally, I don’t consider failure an option. But without innovation, without the risk of disruption in the name of success, continued failure is the only option. If you’re willing to go beyond Groupthink, contact me.

Sharon-Drew Morgen
I'm an original thinker. I wrote the NYT Bestseller Selling with Integrity and 8 other books bridging systemic brain change models with business, for sales, leadership, communications, coaching. I invented Buying Facilitation(R) (Buy Side support), How of Change(tm) (creates neural pathways for habit change), and listening without bias. I coach, train, speak, and consult companies and teams who seek Servant Leader models.


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