'WISER: Getting beyond groupthink to make groups smarter'

New book exposes flaws of group decision-making; provides counterintuitive advice on how to reduce failure

Conventional wisdom states that "two heads are better than one" and that groups make better decisions than individuals in business, government, and daily life. But in their new book, "WISER: Getting Beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter" (Harvard Business Review Press), authors Reid Hastie, professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and Cass Sunstein, professor at Harvard Law School, turn this cliché on its head, showing that in fact group decisions often are deeply flawed.

"The history of the human species suggests that all too often, groups fail to live up to their potential," the authors write. "On the contrary, many groups turn out to be foolish. They bet on products that are doomed to failure. They miss out on spectacular opportunities. They develop unsuccessful marketing strategies. Their investments and strategies go awry, hurting millions of people in the process."

Hastie discusses details of the book in this short video.

Drawing on the latest studies and data, including their own original research, and using examples from a wide range of business and government entities (i.e., Healthcare.gov, Google, the CIA), Sunstein and Hastie explain in fascinating detail the specific and predictable ways that groups can go terribly wrong. For example, groups often amplify instead of correct individual errors in judgment, and they often emphasize what everybody knows already instead of focusing on the critical information that only a few people have.

Then, the authors use their findings to offer counterintuitive advice on how to make groups smarter, including "8 Ways To Reduce Failure," such as assigning roles so that all members contribute effectively; creating special teams whose job is to poke holes in the finding of the group; or playing "Moneyball" by relying on "ground truth," reliable facts and figures.

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Cass R. Sunstein is a U.S. legal scholar and served as the Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration. He is the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard Law School, and is co-author, with Richard Thaler, of "Nudge."

Reid Hastie is an authority on the psychology of decisions, especially by groups. He has authored several books, including, "Rational Choice in an Uncertain World." He is the Ralph and Dorothy Keller Distinguished Service Professor of Behavioral Science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.