Rethinking Groupthink

Penn prof proves wisdom of crowds can prevail

Go to the profile of Penn

PennFollowJun 21, 2017

By Katherine Unger Baillie

Groups in which everyone has equal influence made better predictions than groups in which a single individual was deemed an opinion leader.

Anyone following forecasting polls leading up to the 2016 election likely believed Hillary Clinton would become the 45th president of the United States. Although this opinion was the consensus among most political-opinion leaders and media, something clearly went wrong with these prediction tools.

Though it may never be known for certain the reasons for the discrepancy between public perception and the electoral reality, new findings from the University of Pennsylvania’s Damon Centola may offer a clue: the wisdom of a crowd is in the network.

The classic “wisdom of crowds” theory goes like this: If we ask a group of people to guess an outcome, the group’s guess will be better than any individual expert. Thus, when a group tries to make a decision, in this case, predicting the outcome of an election, the group does a better job than experts. For market predictions, geopolitical forecasting and crowdsourcing product ideas, the wisdom of crowds has been shown to even outperform industry experts.

That is true — as long as people don’t talk to each other. When people start sharing their opinions, their conversations can lead to social influences that produce “groupthink” and destroy the wisdom of the crowd. So says the classic theory.

But Centola, an associate professor in Penn’s Annenberg School for Communicationand School of Engineering and Applied Science and director of the Network Dynamics Group, discovered the opposite. When people talk to each other, the crowd can get smarter. Centola, along with Ph.D. candidate Joshua Becker and recent Ph.D. graduate Devon Brackbill, published the findings in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper is available for download here:

“The classic theory says that if you let people talk to each other groups go astray. But,” said Centola, “we find that even if people are not particularly accurate, when they talk to each other, they help to make each other smarter. Whether things get better or worse depends on the networks.

Damon Centola

“In egalitarian networks,” he said, “where everyone has equal influence, we find a strong social-learning effect, which improves the quality of everyone’s judgements. When people exchange ideas, everyone gets smarter. But this can all go haywire if there are opinion leaders in the group.”

An influential opinion leader can hijack the process, leading the entire group astray. While opinion leaders may be knowledgeable on some topics, Centola found that, when the conversation moved away from their expertise, they still remained just as influential. As a result, they ruined the group’s judgment.

“On average,” he said, “opinion leaders were more likely to lead the group astray than to improve it.”

The online study included more than 1,300 participants, who were placed into one of three experimental conditions. Some were placed into one of the “egalitarian” networks, where everyone had an equal number of contacts and everyone had equal influence. Others were placed into one of the “centralized” networks, in which a single opinion leader was connected to everyone, giving that person much more influence in the group. Each of the networks contained 40 participants. Finally, Centola had several hundred subjects participate in a “control” group, without any social networks.

In the study, all of the participants were given a series of estimation challenges, such as guessing the number of calories in a plate of food. They were given three tries to get the right answer. Everyone first gave a gut response.

Then, participants who were in social networks could see the guesses made by their social contacts and could use that information to revise an answer. They could then see their contacts’ revisions and revise their answers again. But this time it was their final answer. Participants were awarded as much as $10 based on the accuracy of their final guess. In the control group, participants did the same thing, but they were not given any social information between each revision.

“Everyone’s goal was to make a good guess. They weren’t paid for showing up,” Centola said, “only for being accurate.”

Patterns began to emerge. The control groups initially showed the classic wisdom of the crowd but did not improve as people revised their answers. Indeed, if anything, they got slightly worse. By contrast, the egalitarian networks also showed the classic wisdom of the crowd but then saw a dramatic increase in accuracy. Across the board, in network after network, the final answers in these groups were consistently far more accurate than the initial “wisdom of the crowd.”

“In a situation where everyone is equally influential,” Centola said, “people can help to correct each other’s mistakes. This makes each person a little more accurate than they were initially. Overall, this creates a striking improvement in the intelligence of the group. The result is even better than the traditional wisdom of the crowd! But, as soon as you have opinion leaders, social influence becomes really dangerous.”

In the centralized networks, Centola found that, when the opinion leaders were very accurate, they could improve the performance of the group. But even the most accurate opinion leaders were consistently wrong some of the time.

“Thus,” Centola said, “while opinion leaders can sometimes improve things, they were statistically more likely to make the group worse off than to help it.

“The egalitarian network was reliable because the people who were more accurate tended to make smaller revisions, while people who were less accurate revised their answers more. The result is that the entire crowd moved toward the more accurate people, while, at the same time, the more accurate people also made small adjustments that improved their score.”

These findings on the wisdom of crowds have startling real-world implications in areas such as climate-change science, financial forecasting, medical decision-making and organizational design.

For example, while engineers have been trying to design ways to keep people from talking to each other when making important decisions in an attempt to avoid groupthink, Centola’s findings suggest that what matters most is the network. A group of equally influential scientists talking to one another will likely lead to smarter judgments than might arise from keeping them independent.

“By designing informational systems where everyone’s voices can be heard, we can improve the judgment of the entire group. It’s as important for science as it is for democracy.” — Damon Centola

He is currently working on implementing these findings to improve physicians’ decision-making. By designing a social network technology for use in hospital settings, it may be possible to reduce implicit bias in physicians’ clinical judgments and to improve the quality of care that they can offer.

Whether new technologies are needed to improve the way the groups talk to each other, or whether we just need to be cautious about the danger of opinion leaders, Centola said it’s time to rethink the idea of the wisdom of crowds.

“It’s much better to have people talk to each other and argue for their points of view than to have opinion leaders rule the crowd,” he said. “By designing informational systems where everyone’s voices can be heard, we can improve the judgment of the entire group. It’s as important for science as it is for democracy.”

The work was supported in part by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Katherine Unger Baillie is a science news officer at Penn’s Office of University Communications.


Go to the profile of Penn


The University of Pennsylvania is one of the oldest universities in America and one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the world.

How to Find Your Friends at a Festival

Some Dos and Don’ts for Keeping Your Crew Together

Go to the profile of Eamon Armstrong

Eamon ArmstrongFollowAug 4, 2014

First published on Fest300 (now Everfest) on August 04, 2014

Doing a festival as a crew, camp or tribe enhances the experience and strengthens your friendships. But part of what makes the festival environment so great can also make it hard to keep track of your people. Instead of wandering blindly, plan ahead with some of these helpful tips.

Do: Choose a landmark as a meeting spot.

Photo from Governors Ball by: Art Gimbel.

A large, easily identifiable landmark is key for keeping track of your friends. If you’re at a camping festival, find your nearest landmark before you start exploring so you don’t get lost trying to get home.

Don’t: Choose a landmark that moves.

Coachella Astronaut .gif by Anthony Samaniego

Overheard at Coachella: “Everyone’s trying to meet up at the astronaut ’cause they don’t know that it moves!”

Do: Carry a creative beacon so you’re easy to find.

Photo from Electric Daisy Carnival by: Art Gimbel

From flags at Jazz Fest, to hilarious cutouts at EDC, to glowing ragesticks at Symbiosis, having a totem for your crew is a great way to meet up, show your creativity and identify your tribe. Check out some of the best totems we saw at EDC this year.

Don’t: Block everyone’s view of the stage.

Photo from Glastonbury by Paula Bailey Creative Commons

You’re carrying a huge brightly colored object. Be considerate.

Do: Use coordinated costumes for big groups.

bEEcHARGE!!! at Burning Man 2014 by Eric Limon Photography .

bEEcHARGE!!! is a clever Burning Man theme camp. Not only are the glowing bees identifiable in their black and yellow outfits with antennae and wings, they move from place to place as a buzzing, swarming hive.

Don’t: Rely on coordinated costumes at SantaCon.

SantaCon by Jamie McCaffrey Creative Commons.

“Have you seen my friends? They’re wearing red and a few of them have big white beards.”

Do: Use helpful apps BEFORE the festival.


In addition to the official festival apps, there are some excellent resources to check out before you get into the festival. If you’re going to Burning Man, check out BurnerMap. It shows you where your Facebook friends are camping and it’s also a fun way to find out that an old friend is a burner. FestEvo, a new app from The Festival Guy, gives you a list of your friends that are going to a particular festival so you always have people to go with.

Don’t: Get stuck on your phone at the festival.

Secret Garden Party by Chris Beckett Creative Commons.

Aside from the frustration of trying to find service, your phone is a portal to the outside world. Do you really want to step out of a righteous paint war just to scan your newsfeed?

Don’t: Spend the festival herding cats.

Cat Herder by EDS.

You may want to spend every moment mobbing in a giant crew but some people just want to lag, drift off or run away. Let the curious kittens go early so the rest of the group doesn’t burn out waiting around for them. Soldier on with your most engaged comrades and you’ll move effortlessly through the day’s (or night’s) adventures.

Do: Embrace serendipity.

Wakarusa by Stephen Ironside.

In spite of your best efforts, you may become separated from your group, and that’s not a bad thing! Sometimes a solo adventure is what you really needed all along. Fear not, the festival will open up for you! You may bump into an old friend or meet a new one. Check out our how-to for tips on making new friends when you’re festing alone.

How do you keep your crew together at a festival?

Originally published at

Side-stepping group dynamics: The 90-minute Mini-Sprint

How we generated 432 ideas in 3 hours and picked 5 winners without arguing.

Go to the profile of Luke Battye

Luke BattyeFollowNov 17, 2017

So we recently ran a hack day where we wanted to reconnect everyone with the purpose in our business: uniting knowledge.

As not every member of the team had experienced our Design Sprint process first hand, we decided to design a taster experience and play around with a new format. I thought it would be fun to pull together 10 client briefs and run 10 ninety minute mini-sprints over the course of one day.

The process was designed to give people first-hand experience of a selection of our techniques and meant we needed a format that fully side-stepped all the usual psychological hurdles that slow teams down.

Over the course of the day we generated 432 different responses to those briefs and whittled them down to 5 winners. Here’s how we did it.

1. Setting the scene

So first things first, even mini-sprints need materials. We kitted out every team with timers, masking tape, a variety of post-its and a kaleidoscope of colourful pens to let their minds run wild.

We took a selection of briefs and turned them into simple “How might we…” formats. For example “How might we get Brand X’s toy on kids Christmas list this year?”.

2. Define the customer outcome (5 minutes)

We broke the group into teams of 5 and each one had their own name and special hat (not essential but quite amusing).

Each team of 5 was handed the brief and had 5 minutes to discuss, as a team, what they might need to achieve for the clients’s customer, for the client to be successful.

Teams had 5 minutes to review their ‘how might we’ brief and find a way to convert it into a customer outcome. If client wanted to drive sales, a customer outcome might “How might we make it easier to find product X”.

3. Solo research (10 minutes)

Teams then had 10 minutes to do solo research. No talking, no discussion, no questions. Just 10 minutes looking at the challenge, doing some research on the key issues to address and making copious notes.

4. Crazy 8s (10 minutes)

Upbeat music essential — consider Benny Hill style beats or even the countdown music

We then jumped into Crazy8s. Each person had 8 minutes to individually come up with 8 different ways to answer the “how might we” question. Every minute we sounded an alarm and instructed everyone to abandon ship and move onto the next one.

5. Six-Part Storyboard (15 minutes)

Pre-prepared storyboards helped create quick structure

After the crazy8s we got people to choose their strongest idea and develop it up into a short 6-part storyboard. First frame was scene-setting, final frame was desired customer behaviour. Their job was to spend a little time filling in the blanks and looking for clear ways to explain their concept without the need for a voiceover.

6. Lightening Demos (15 minutes)

Get ruthless and cut people off if they run over — they’re called lightning demos for a reason!

Everyone was getting bored of not talking so now we brought teams back together to present their concept in 3 minutes. No extra time allowed.

Everyone was given 5 voting stickers and had to place them, without discussion, on the concepts or parts of concepts they felt were the strongest.

7. Remix & Improve (20 minutes)

Teams could choose to combine ideas or just take a winner and they then spent 20 minutes developing and refining a single proposition. This was the chance to build more depth into the concepts and help make the storytelling crystal clear.

8. Art Gallery (10 minutes)

Big boards and surfaces are perfect for the art gallery — just space them out enough

The winning ideas were then transferred to one of our workshop spaces into an art gallery format. No discussion now, people had 10 minutes to read the client’s “how might we” question and the proposed solutions.

9. Vote (5 minutes)

Make sure everyone has enough votes for team-building

The team now had 10 votes to cast and were instructed to decide which briefs they thought best delivered against the brief. Not discussion, and they were free to vote multiple times on the same idea if they wanted to.

10. And the winners are…

This is what a winner looks like

At the end of the 90 minutes we surface the best ideas and the winning teams were chosen to turn their storyboard into a 5 minute live-performance for the whole company’s amusement (not essential but again, very amusing).

What did we learn?

A 90 minute dash is a pretty fun way to start a brainstorm on a new brief. It’s fast, it generates diverse ideas and it quickly gets the ‘obvious’ responses on paper so you can move onto the deeper thinking faster.

Why it worked?

  • No over-the-top background on the brief that bogs teams down in detail when you need ‘blue sky’ (gag) thinking
  • No time-wasting with discussions — just powering through to new thinking
  • No debates about who’s idea is best, just data on what the team thinks without any hurt feelings

So yeah, get mini-sprinting 🙂

Thanks for reading this article! It makes our little hearts skip with delight when we see we’ve gotten a clap. If you liked what we wrote then give us a clap (or 10 if you’re super generous).

You’ll make our day, we’ll get a little notification that something’s happened on our medium site and with the excitement of a kid on Christmas Eve we’ll drop whatever we’re doing, unlock our phones, dive into the app, take a look at who clapped and find your profile picture smiling back at us.

We’ll smile back at you, check out your profile, nod to ourselves about how professional and awesome you look, follow you and then think ‘Man, we’re good. We got this awesome human being to read something we wrote and they liked it! Boom.’ We’ll go home satisfied that we’ve done some good in the world. All that from one little clap…and it helps us spread the word about Sprint Valley of course…

Interested to learn more about how we could help you? Get in touch.

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Not always 3 is a crowd- The rationale behind group dynamics

Go to the profile of Debanjan Kundu

Debanjan KunduFollowJul 16, 2018

“Never doubt a small group of thoughtful citizens who can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has” — Margaret Mead

Whenever we imagine that a group of individuals are working together who are way too comfortable with each other, we tend to believe that the orientation towards a goal has changed. We seldom forget that in order to achieve something individually or as a team, focus is most important. In the coming of age in the field of start-ups and a crazy trend to be overtly independent, people often forget that no one is complete. It is highly probable that an individual can achieve a lot single handed but a team can achieve a lot more.

Building the idea of group work has some serious implications in future. One of them is developing a high skill of micro management. In a group, not everyone can be a leader of the group but everyone can lead something as sub divided functions of the group. It is very important to delegate work to all the people equally. Delegation often stems from the fact that there is enough trust and confidence placed in the person’s abilities to complete a given task. It is all about identifying individual potentials and also having an equal capability to intervene in one’s shortcomings in order to maximize the potential of the group. The way, a group interacts with a society is often a key in understanding the way it will influence the society in future. More often than not, the structure of any group is formal which are structured to perform specific tasks.

In a recent case study of a group of individuals having common goals for examinations that they wanted to clear, the individuals had initially planned out the entire time table for a certain amount of time. In a way, they imagined themselves to have completed the tasks in a much efficient way. When the results of the examinations came out, all the individuals had successfully completed and qualified that examination. The back story to this fold of success started when they decided to achieve that goal of qualifying the examination. The time table not only included relative portions of study but also had portions where they used to converse in conference calls and discuss issues related to improvement. One of the key in successful group dynamics is to identify each other’s shortcomings and that was what this group also focused on. They wanted all the members of the group to develop an ability of solving maximum of the problems that they encountered. It is like having a cricket team in which even No.11 can bat and bail out the team in a tricky situation and even the opening batsman can bowl 3–4 quick overs if required.

The secret behind any success is always focusing on the process than on the results. The process of achieving the goal, the preparation one individual takes or a team takes is more important than the consequence. Mutual assistance, guidance, coordination are key players in successful group dynamics. Being pragmatic always helps and hence to understand that not everyone is equal but everyone can be molded to be equal is important. In a way, the belief that a group can achieve anything when they can harmonize the work and appreciate each other’s achievements, enjoy the success that others and working on their own developments all contribute to success.

The three characteristics of a real team- Harvard Business Review

1) A meaningful and common purpose– This is more of an external mandate. The team must definitely set a common goal and purpose in order to achieve something.

2) Adaptable skills- Diversity in individual capabilities are a must. The most effective teams do not always have the skills required from the outset; once they start working they adapt and learn the various skills required to achieve that goal.

3) Mutual accountability- Again, it is not always noble to accept the blame or put the blame for any sort of failures or success. A team must always focus on “We” rather than an “I”.

The way a team handles failures is also very important. Not always an individual wins or neither does a team win every day. It is important to learn how to lose, in order to win. It is important to seek help when it becomes difficult to push through. We are mere mortals, we are mere human beings, we make mistakes, we learn from them and we accept them and we move on. Not every day is equal neither every day brings failures. Persistence and self-belief are ultimate keys to success.

Power and Group Dynamics

Go to the profile of Dr Katherine Phelps

Dr Katherine PhelpsFollowMar 29, 2018

painting by Constantin Hansen

Our culture is keen on building up competitiveness, status-seeking, and individualism. These qualities are useful for easily encouraging people to consume. What we need now more than ever is for people to learn how to cooperate and to share. These skills will help us to live in a more balanced, peaceful, and sustainable manner.

Successfully forming and maintaining a group is also a skill. Simply turning up, banging around, then disappearing when things don’t instantly go your way is a recipe for disaster. You have to give yourself time to learn. Then you have to learn things such as flexibility, listening skills, creative problem solving, empathy, resilience, and humility.

At some level we all want to get our way and be the important one. At a more mature level we understand that the final goal and the means by which we get there are more important. Every group needs to be clear on its purpose, values, and goals, then remain focussed.

Because of the nature of our culture people have a hard time being forthright and thoughtful. Some people are motivated to use different tactics to manipulatively control a group, rather than collaborating. Understanding the tactics can help to reduce some people unconsciously slipping into these behaviours. They may even take them to a positive place instead.

Some people will not want to learn, because they feel insecure being in anything less than a controlling position. You will want to recognise what they are up to, see if they can be convinced to learn, and if not, drop them. No matter how high-minded you are, keeping some people on board will destroy a group. It’s okay to let people go upon occasion, we seek freedom as well as community.

Too many generals (not enough soldiers)

We do need considered opinions. We do need the voice of experience. We don’t need people who tell the toilet cleaners how to do their job when they aren’t willing and haven’t cleaned those toilets themselves. Those who do the work need to make the rules about how the work is done.

Entourage vs cheer leaders

We need cheer leaders who are good at bringing in new members. Go team! We do not need people who bring in the numbers (their entourage) just to use them as a way to gain personal power.

Working their way to the top

Some people are very good workers and we need that. Some people take on jobs and take on jobs, until their presence is indispensable. They may then hold the group hostage to their desires.

The bountiful parent

We want people who are warm and generous. It’s what we are all aiming to become. Some people will wrap you in their arms and give you things in order to get you to relinquish your responsibilities/power to them and oblige you to abide by their wishes.

Poor pity me

We do need to be there to the best of our abilities when someone is in trouble. We need to recognise when people regularly create trouble or rely on trouble as a way to function on an ongoing basis. These people need professional help. We need to recognise when this is used by people to be treated in a privileged manner.

Late comers and early leavers

Life is messy and we are all late comers and early leavers upon occasion. We need to be aware when this is being used as a form of passive resistance. Why do some people feel the need to protest in this manner? Is it indicative of a problem the group needs to address? Is it a power play?


We need people who deeply care and have the strength to stand for a better world. We need to be careful of people with dominating personalities who silence others and take over agendas.


Sometimes it’s worth dealing with people in a gentle and sensitive manner. However some people will not speak up about their wishes. They can cause people to hop around trying to figure out what they want. They can undercut people through looks and body language, creating an unwelcoming atmosphere. We need to create a space where everyone feels safe to be forthright about their wants and needs, and then be forthright. It’s unfair making people guess.

Difficult people

Is someone simply being difficult, or are they symptomatic of a larger problem? Dysfunctional families classically point to the member who is struggling to free themselves from dysfunction as “the problem”. However, sometimes a person does have a problem with anti-social behaviour. We need systems in place to ensure they are treated justly, but are not allowed to disrupt the group.


We all need good advisors. Sometimes people are attracted to being the power behind the power. They will put themselves in an advisory role with a leader. Their compliments will edge into flattery. They will carefully plant doubts into a leader’s mind. They will lightly cut others down and say that it’s meant to be helpful advice. The problem with puppeteers is that you can’t know when they are being genuine. Talking with them does not help, because they will verbally agree with you, then actively ignore your wishes. These people have to be removed. They will take their pound of flesh while you are doing so, but keeping them on board is worse. Stand strong, take what actions you have to efficiently and with as little entangling emotion as possible, then count your losses.

Groups and power

Groups are important. We do not live on this planet alone. We cannot survive on our own. A group is more powerful than one person, of course. The larger the group, the larger the potential power. To quote Voltaire and Spiderman: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Positions of power attract people whose sole interest are positions of power. Such people may support your cause, and are likely to do so effectively, but they are more dedicated to power and therefore will not always represent your best interests.

Even on the small scale we all seek validation. We can become entangled in our own pet desires and side track ourselves from our own highest vision.

We will have to remain vigilant of our own behaviour to ensure we are a nexus of compassion. Compassion is not for wimps. We must withstand bullying that can come from within as well as without. Fear and paranoia are not the answer. Wisdom and discernment are called for. Patience and strength are a must. We must treat one another fairly and with kindness. We must also trust in our ability to face contention and controversy. Together we can change the world.

Peace and kindness,


originally published 03 February 2015

The 60’s sound and the church: thoughts on the lost beauty of group dynamics

Rick MichelsFollowJun 8, 2018

The Fab Four: greater together

I went to the elliptical machine for the morning workout, and on this day decided to plug in “Monkees Radio” on my Apple iTunes account. I have a thing about 60’s pop, both because it’s catchy and fun, and also because it brings up happy memories of being a child in (but not necessarily of) the 60’s.

Of course, the Beatles dominated the era, musically speaking. I was in the first grade when they first appeared on Ed Sullivan. Not having a sister beyond third grade, we were a younger family and thus not clued into the big event. However, the next day and for the following week, our entire school seemed hypnotized by the show. Recesses were filled with children, arms around necks walking as one, singing “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah” and “I wanna hold your hand-a-an-a-anna-and. I wanna hold your hand.” It didn’t take long for me to get hooked to the sound, when I could finally hear it for myself.

I may have missed the televised musical moonshot, but heaven for a tyke like me came soon enough when The Beatles launched their thoroughly enjoyable Saturday morning cartoon series. Normally, I missed the best cartoons on Saturday morning. Being a Catholic kid who attended public school, Saturday mornings meant something between three to forever hours in religious instruction (CCD) classes. There, nuns crammed an entire week of religious instruction into one single morning. But, it was not just any morning. CCD was held on blessed Saturday morning — i.e., the time of prime time children’s programming. All three major networks devoted the time with the best and latest cartoons, along with advertisements of the latest toys, candy, and sugared cereals. There was no better place (or maybe worse) for a kid to be on Saturday morning except plastered in front of what my father called “the nut box.”

Yet for some reason, The Beatles cartoon show came on late enough in the morning that we could catch it when we got home. This act of mercy was almost enough to believe in God and unmerited grace (though not necessarily the sanctifying kind, which the nuns drilled into us through the Baltimore Catechism Q and A format).

So, I love the 60’s. I tell millennials and gen-Xers that 60’s music was so awesome, especially in its peak of 1967, that you didn’t dare stray too far from a radio. It was the Summer of Love, followed by the autumn of Hair, the release of Sargent Pepper, and Light My Fire. The radio burst with amazing sounds. And yet, for a suburban kid like myself anyway, AM Top 40 radio also served as a sort of filler while we waited for a big announcement: the “world premiere!” of the latest Beatles release. What would it be? Another Eleanor RigbyYellow Submarine? (we kids loved that) Strawberry Fields Forever? So, the radio was on…Wait for it…wait for it…Monkees now playing…cool…still waiting for it…Incense and Peppermints, cool….wait for it….and then: I Am the Walrus!!! with Hello Goodbye on the flip side. WOW! They did it again.

Imagine the following year, 1968, waiting with your ear to AM 40 radio for the next release…and getting Lady Madonna in the spring, and then….HOLY COW! Revolution and Hey Jude in the summer. Not only that, but both tracks available on the same inexpensive 45 RPM. Not a bad deal for a kid on a limited paper route budget.

But roughly around that time, with the release of the White Album, and the introduction of Led Zeppelin, the pop music scene began a gradual change. Mostly, one noticed many of the most popular bands of the 60’s began to drop out of the Top 40 radio. Of course, it was at this time the Beatles broke up, and we were curious about what each member as a solo artist would bring forth, albeit with no more breathless “Coming up! The world premiere!” sort of thing — not even for Lennon or McCartney’s solo efforts. And many new artists showed up, seemingly out of the blue, taking the place of many disappearing acts: Carole King, James Taylor, Creedence Clearwater, Bread, Carpenters, The Eagles, Elton John, Led Zepplin, Chicago. The music stayed great. Many would argue it got even better (“Classic Rock” feeds mostly off the 70’s, it seems).

But what had puzzled me for some time is why so many of those great 60’s bands so quickly disappeared: The Byrds…gone. The Association…gone as well. The Turtles….ducked into their shells. The Mama and the Papas…divorced. Even the Beach Boys suddenly became an instant nostalgia band, their songs instantly dated. And it always made me wonder…why?

So, while working a sweat to the Turtles aforementioned Eleanor, released in 1968 as the last Turtles hit, I was enjoying the beautiful harmonics of the voices, and suddenly a thought occurred to me: What was largely abandoned in pop music entering the 70’s was the harmonizing sound made so popular, particularly by the Beatles and the Beach Boys. The Beach Boys began the idea of a harmonizing group within rock n’roll with great talent but no headlining artist taking the lead. Here, to be fair, I must also give a nod to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, but whereas one can callout The Beach Boys without mentioning Brian Wilson, it seems the Four Seasons needs a Frankie Valli qualifier. And my bias may be showing if I don’t mention the girl harmonizing groups like the Shirelles.

But it was the Beatles who took that harmonizing sound to a new level, and even as the Fab Four became household names unleashing the sound that defined Beatlemania, it was understood that the parts were not replaceable but rather integral to the whole. Although Lennon and McCartney were at the forefront, Richard Starkey was Ringo, an irreplaceable Beatle, and replacing him would be tearing the fabric of a seamless garment. George Harrison as well.

Other groups followed in the “English invasion”, and copycats along with newly inspired artists appeared in the States: The Vogues, Simon and Garfunkel, the Mama and the Papas, many of whom who learned their craft in the folkie bands that harmonized the folk tunes so well, yet now discovering a new sound to reach for. Even mega folk stars Peter, Paul and Mary had to learn how to “dig rock n’ roll music” and brought the joy to their mimicking of that sound in their big 1967 hit of that name. And the pattern followed for these groups: while recognizing great individual talent, still the whole was greater than the sum of the parts, and it was the harmonizing that made the band one entity.

This was true for Motown as well, as the Four Tops, the Temptations, The Miracles, The Spinners, created wonderful harmonies, working hard to create that Motown sound and bring it to greater heights. And in many cases, they truly reached perfection in their harmonies. But as harmonic perfection seemed reached, something new was apparently needed to strive for. And so perhaps partly due to that pursuit, many groups followed the Beatles and began to fracture into solo acts, with the top talent looking for new ground to explore. Mama Cass left the Mamas and the Papas, the Monkees went their separate ways, and each went nowhere. Eddie Kendrick left the Temptations to try to become as big a name as Marvin Gaye was becoming. The Byrds uneasily morphed into Crosby, Stills and Nash, perhaps the best harmonizing band of them all. Yet even though they stayed together, they too began to fade from the charts.

So the 60’s moved into the 70’s and a new focus on headliners appeared. The sixties of course had its own headlining solo acts, but the bands and even the sounds that made the decade stand apart — the group harmonics — withered from the scene. In their place were the great solo acts or the superbands with the tremendous front man. The Turtles were outlasted by Roger Daltrey and The Who, Freddie Mercury and Queen, Robert Plant and Led Zeppelin, and etc. The Association were replaced by Karen Carpenter and her brother. In fact, to underscore the point, Karen created her own harmonics with the famous Carpenter “WAAAHHHHH” — no need for six Association male voices when one overdubbed Karen Carpenter would do the trick. It wasn’t long before the star maker machinery kicked in and did the inevitable: turning the Supremes, first into Diana Ross and the Supremes to the inevitable Diana Ross…alone. Cher dropped Sonny of course…and yes, the beat went on to greater stardom.

Meanwhile, in the Christian world, a scene similar to the one in music was taking place. For example, like Elvis Presley, Billy Graham was himself having a hard time staying relevant. Group dynamics, for lack of a better word, were driving the vehicle of evangelization. Pope John XXIII was a superstar with his charisma and call for Vatican II. But John died early in the decade and the work of creating a new Catholic “sound” (if you will) of local language services and guitar masses was done by anonymous men and women working in committees. And on the heels of this “spirit a movin’ all over the land” was another powerful spiritual movement taking place: the charismatic moment. Common folks in churches all over the landscape were being baptized into the Holy Spirit, with prayer cells throughout the denominations springing up in the odd hours between the regular services. There were powerful and new sounds in praying, prophesying, signs, words of knowledge and wisdom, encouragement, and even the making of beautiful music with the vocal chords, all in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

No one superstar stood out, outside of maybe David Wilkerson of Sword and Switchblade fame. Rather, the “stars” of this Jesus moment were the Jesus people, also known as the Jesus freaks. If one looked hard enough, one would find the Lennon and McCartneys, the Roger McGuinns of the movement. But to the public eye, they were anonymous: a Jesus freak was a Jesus freak was a Jesus freak. Like the Hippies, to the public they stood out in their anonymity. The Jesus People created a less formal, yet highly spiritual vibe. Consider the biggest Christian 60’s hits: Oh Happy DayPut Your Hand in the Hand and even the Doobie Brothers Jesus is Just Alright with me. Can you name a single performer in those recordings? (of course, this point is countered by the mega hit of the scene: Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky).

It was a glorious moment for the church. Yet following it into the 70’s, much like the music scene, there was also a rise of unusually powerful charismatic leaders (charismatic in a natural and not a spiritual sense) who stepped out and asserted their headlining power. Often, this led to great new works of evangelism. Standing out perhaps was Pat Robertson and the 700 club. The name “700” suggested an anonymous group performance, but the rising program had a definite superstar front man. Unfortunately, this emphasis on the charismatic front man meant we’d also have our cultic disasters, the Jim Jones mass murder/suicide being the most horrifying. This was followed by lesser scandals by other front men, notably Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart. But the trend was set — big name performers in the church — and continues to this day.

What we have seen in the Christian world since then is a phenomenon similar to the popular music scene: super evangelist/pastors/teachers headlining big ministries backed by anonymous men and women that seem interchangeable. The superstar is the important person — working alone on the stage, builder of the large megachurch. The megachurch is in fact the star making machinery behind him paying the bills and doing the essential work in support of the superstar pastor. But when the superstar falls, be he a Ted Haggard or a Mark Driscoll, great can be that destruction (and great as well, can be less noticed restoration). Certainly the anonymous foot soldiers go on. Still, we have lost much of that “Jesus sound” of the 60’s.

The charismatic (spiritual, not natural) prayer meetings however were, and still are, powerful ensembles of harmony and unity in purpose — when the Holy Spirit is given charge. I’ve heard amazing chiming out of the mouths of simple unassuming women that blow away anything The Byrds and Tom Petty did with their guitars. It’s a supernatural thing, done when the Holy Spirit is in charge. Similar was the sound I experienced the first time I heard a group baptized in the spirit and praying in tongues: fresh and exciting. Or…words of knowledge from normally quiet saints being offered the loving freedom from a loosely or tight knit group of a prayer team. Operating under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the saints were encouraged to step out and try something new, to harmonize their gifts and help to turn a simple meeting into a powerful encounter with the Divine. Like the latest Beatles release of my youth, I long to hear those things again, in the next release.

Perhaps, and I fervently pray so, we are entering a new period in the church, in which the superstar is not flesh and blood, but the invisible Holy Spirit, creating a united sound among thousands of charismatic followers to lift up the name of Jesus in divine harmony. It would be a sound beautiful to the ear, with the fruit of changed and transformed lives following in its wake, and millions more whistling along and tapping their feet.

Now that would be truly groovy.

Dealing with Group Dynamics

Go to the profile of Christian Klang

Christian KlangFollowJul 12, 2017

Working with groups in general isn’t easy. No matter if you are facilitating a meeting, a workshop or a training. Feedback plays one important part and a safe learning environment plays another. Put into simple words, be kind and supportive towards each other!

What is happening! (turn on sound)

But sometimes none of these approaches seem to work. You wonder what is happening within a group and you don’t know how to deal with it. Confusion leads to panic. It happens to me sometimes.

Groups are not easy to understand. This is one of the reasons why giving workshops and trainings can be surprising. On the other hand, handling groups can be amazingly satisfying and leveraging individual learning as well. Imagine a group which pushes forward and is desperate to solve a common challenge. A group where all individuals are heard and can even accelerate their learning experience. It comes to no surprise that group development (which is a part of teambuilding) is a big thing.

Sometimes one member of a group makes a difference. Only one member can demotivate everyone by saying “It is so hot outside today.” — Or one member can push everyone by asking “This made me curious. Can we talk about that?”. The people then start asking more questions and the group starts cooperating and collaborating. Groups can eventually turn into teams. Teams can develop remarkable dynamics which can lead to happiness and success.

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.”

Michael Jordan

Please Don’t Do This At Home

When it comes to group dynamics one of the first things that can happen to you as a Learning Designer is putting participants into boxes. Say you have the performer, the non-performer, the alpha, the beta, the gamma, the auditive or the visual guy, the slow group or the fast group etc. Every participant’s and every individual’s first impression usually sticks. He is bad in math, she doesn’t like games, he understands quickly, and so on. I try to avoid this inside-the-box-thinking as much as I can. It is all about prejudices and doesn’t help you.

Another thing quite popular among coaches, trainers and facilitators is Tuckman team stages as part of group development. Usually it has the goal to improve collaboration and group work efficiency. Here are the 5 steps of Tuckman team stages:

  1. The group forms
  2. The group fights
  3. The group defines common values and goals
  4. The group becomes a team and performs
  5. The group falls apart or reforms (continuing with stage 1)

This model helps to set goals for a teambuilding session. But I don’t use this for learning-related sessions, workshops and trainings because it doesn’t help me understand the current needs and underlying dynamics of a group. I am not here for teambuilding, I am here to facilitate a group.

Understanding Needs

Teambuilding or facilitation, we always need to start with understanding the needs of a group: What needs does a member of a group have? And what actions will this member probably do to fulfil the needs (aka “What is happening!!!”)? According to William Schutz and his FIRO theory people in groups have 3 basic needs:

  • Inclusion: Be part of the group
  • Control: Play an important role in the group
  • Affection: Be loved by the group

Understanding these needs helps you to understand what is happening and why it is happening. It helps you to deal with groups, even if the focus is not on teambuilding.

1. Inclusion Phase

When a group comes together the inclusion phase is the first step. People wonder whether they want to be part of this group and whether they actually are already part of this group. This phase can be observed in every newly-formed group, even if it is only temporary (like for a training).

  • People want to say something just because
  • People want to get to know all the others in the room
  • People want to get connected to a common ground (e.g. training topic)

This need for inclusion can be fulfilled by icebreaking activities, an introduction round, by asking for their expectations and by making clear why this meetup is important for everyone of them.

Even when groups leave for a break and then come back, there is always a need for inclusion when a group assembles (again). You can say things like “Are we all here?” “Any questions regarding our timeline?” and “I think we already made some progress together!”

If people question their membership in the group by saying things like “I don’t know why the others are here” or “I have other things to do” and playing with their phone, be warned. Try to bring them back to the group without isolating them.

This phase usually ends with a short honeymoon phase where everybody feels included and everything seems fine. People are polite and nice to each other.

2. Control Phase

Only when all (!) people got included they can start to contribute. This leads to the second phase and a need for control arises. During this phase people seek for finding their roles and assign their own and the others’ position in the group. Usually conflicts about roles and the purpose of the group arise. Competing for speaking time, attempts to redefine the group tasks and building coalitions in subgroups are signs of the control phase.

People have the need for clarification and structure. They have the need for leadership. This is why they behave like this. Your tasks as a facilitator is helping them to find common rules and processes. This enables them to solve their issues on their own. And of course, give them some guidelines: Show an agenda and the session goals, explain game rules, talk about logistics and give everybody the room to contribute.

Don’t hesitate to (let them) discuss rules and processes. Even if it doesn’t come from you, group members need to know. They need to know what’s coming and what their part is. They have a need for control.

The control phase usually ends with a short idyll phase. When all conflicts got visible and are solved it feels like liberation. Group members start to recognise each other’s differences and gain more self-confidence. A group identity comes up.

3. Openness Phase

The idyll phase doesn’t mean people start to work together as a team. Yes, there are signs that a team is formed. But no, this doesn’t mean it is actually a team. It is more like tea time: Everybody takes lots of effort to preserve the mood, but no task is done.

Only when all members (!) of the group have found their roles they can start building a team. People have the need for opening up. They need to bring their strengths and weaknesses to the table, find out what they can do for the group and show their emotions. They have a need to tell what they can and cannot do. Becoming an effective group — and eventually a team — has a lot to do with honest and clear communication as well as helping each other in need.

During this phase an emotional bond is build. Your tasks as a facilitator is to step back and let them talk. You can ask “What can everybody bring in?” “How do you think you work together as a team?” or “How did you feel during the last discussion?”. Acknowledge group effort and affirm group success.


As a Learning Designer, I usually try to understand participants’ needs. This doesn’t mean I want to fulfil all of them but I want to understand the cause and effects of individual behaviours as well as group dynamics. I don’t believe in difficult participants. They have needs, I have needs. As a facilitator and trainer I must somehow work with all of them.

The 3 phases of FIRO (Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation) help me to understand individual needs in groups and group dynamics. I already observed groups going through these phases several times during a day and then starting all over again the next day. As if the FIRO cycle was repeating itself every time again.

Understanding needs helps me avoiding prejudices as well as putting participants’ feedback and behaviour into context. So it sharpens my own tasks as a facilitator and — through observation and reflection — helps me to become a better Learning Designer.

I am freelance trainer and currently writing a book about Learning Design. Design Thinking and user-centricism helps me to build better trainings and workshops.

Understanding Group Dynamics in a fun way

Go to the profile of Gilberto

GilbertoFollowMay 31, 2018

Time ago I presented a game at the Agile Game Lab Berlin meetup. I have been searching that game for years and once I found it, I wanted to try it. the game is called: Movers and Shapers
 You can find more about it at this link:

The game is really simple. A group of people move randomly inside a closed area, while they move they have to create different configurations based on simple rules given by the game moderator.

What is amazing of this game is that you can see and even feel group dynamics in action. You can experience the constant change in your own movement but also see how the system as a whole changes creating patterns of behavior. It is a fun and easy game to play without any material needed. Perfect for people new to complexity but also great for people that are struggling to understand its meaning!

Group Dynamics and Jon Bell’s Sketchbook

Go to the profile of Jonathan Maimon

Jonathan MaimonFollowSep 23, 2014

I was becoming frustrated. For at least fifteen minutes, only three people out of a group of ten were speaking. I tried to interrupt for the first time at 8:20 pm. However, I couldn’t find even a split second opening to ask Jon Bell, the group’s facilitator, whether I could change the subject from organizational problems at Microsoft to something else. Finally around 8:35 pm, I squeezed in a question to the group’s facilitator. “Hey Jon,” I asked. “Can I change the subject?” He blushed. Did he find my interruption offensive? Possibly. Nonetheless, he said “sure”. I took that as my cue to continue. I followed up with “I’d like to ask you about your sketching practice, and your sketchbook specifically.”

Perhaps I should have introduced my topic differently? I hate it when conversations are monopolized by a few people. When I have something I’d like to say or a question I’d like to ask, it is physically painful for me to keep that idea in my head until I can find a convenient time to ask. It makes me anxious. My heart rate speeds up, I start sweating. I look at my watch to see how long it has been since that idea first entered my head. Is this feeling universal? I’m not sure. When I have something to say, it feels like something is stuck inside of me and I must get it out into the open. It’s like holding a poo for too long: either the feeling subsides and you don’t feel great about it or you lose control and shit your pants.

I wish facilitators would take a moment to say, “I’d like to pause for a second, and see if anyone else has something they’d like to add.” Then, they could slowly look around the room, making eye contact with each person. Perhaps nothing happens the first time. People are generally afraid to be put on the spot. However, I bet the second or third time the facilitator broke the rhythm of the conversation and asked everyone else if they had something to say, someone new would chime in with a unique thought or idea.

I think it would have been interesting to have recorded the conversation and calculated for how long each person spoke. I think the data would show a highly skewed distribution, where 20% of people account for 80% of the conversation. This doesn’t seem very democratic. While in theory every person has the ability to contribute at any time, in practice this is rarely the case. It is extremely difficult to interrupt with a new thought, and it may be construed as offensive to say, “I’d like to change the conversation”. Maybe that’s why Jon blushed.

Jon Bell’s sketchbook

I was curious about sketching practice. I see sketching as a window into someone’s mind and how the how they think. I respect Jon. I wanted to get a sense of how he thinks about the world. The best way to do this would to ask him to talk about his sketching practice. Much to my surprise, Jon stood up to retrieve his sketchbook and show the group a few pages.

It was enlightening. It was interactive. I found it to be far more engaging than idle chatter. I bet that everyone in that room can recall at least one of the images or corresponding stories Jon shared from his sketchbook. I’d be hard-pressed to believe that half or even a quarter of the people could recall a summary of the conversation that preceded Jon’s sketchbook demonstration. People, but especially designers, think in pictures. That’s why I found Jon’s show-and-tell to be so engaging.

Here’s what I liked about Jon’s sketchbook. On many pages, he turned his sketchbook on its side and drew in landscape rather than portrait. Also, he often draws on every other page, although not exclusively. The reason I found this interesting is that earlier that day, I was looking to purchase my own sketchbook. I complained to the floor manager at Blick Art Supplies that the Moleskine notebooks were too narrow. I hadn’t considered that I could turn these Moleskine notebooks on their side to draw. Functional fixedness!

Jon uses a 5”x8.25” 104-pg soft cover Moleskine, without lines. It’s just so happened that Liberty, the bar where we met Jon, uses Moleskine notebooks of the same size as their menus! The waitress took Jon’s sketchbook inadvertently, thinking it was a menu. So when I asked Jon about his sketchbook, he looked around for a bit, and then said “actually…I think the waitress took it.”

When Jon returned, he showed us three images from his book.

First, was an early layout of a schedule for Design Play Seattle, a weekend-long conference he organized. There were three abutting boxes: one for Friday, one for Saturday and one for Sunday. The Friday box had some time blocked off, the Saturday box was open, and the Sunday box had some time blocked off as well.

The second sketch was an idea Jon drew while listening to a talk at Twitter’s Seattle office, given by the guy behind the “I can haz cheeseburger” meme. The idea was that Twitter should do more to facilitate political activism. Specifically, why not build a feature that lets individuals call Congress, directly in the Twitter interface? Jon thought this idea was so brilliant that he decided to sketch what a “call Congress” feature might look like on Twitter’s site.

Jon’s third sketch was a game plan for a talk he was slated to deliver. Jon drew twenty boxes on one page, four rows of five boxes each. Each box represented a unit of time. Next to each box, he jotted a word down, which represented the idea connected to that unit of time. He also annotated some boxes with time codes. For example in the second box, he wrote the time“2:30” to indicate when he should aim to wrap up the second topic: of all things, that topic was sketching! If I recall correctly, it was a quote saying “we jot down not to remember for the future, but to remember the now”.

The idea is to use a sketchbook to imprint a memory today, not to save a paper memory for the future.

Here’s what I found most interesting about Jon’s sketchbook practice. He gives away the sketchbooks when he’s finished writing on all the pages. Jon didn’t think this was such a big deal, but when he tweeted to his followers that he was finished with a sketchbook and he was giving it away, someone tweeted back a mere seven seconds later, saying he would like to have it!

At the end of Jon’s sketchbook show-and-tell, he looked at me and said, “I guess at the end of this conversation, I should probably give you my sketchbook.” I thought this was very generous. However, he followed-up by saying, “there are still some empty pages, so I’ll need to keep it for now”. I’ll have to monitor his Twitter account so I can be the first to respond when he’s finally finished with that sketchbook!

Jon concluded with a comment that drawing in a sketchbook should not be bigger than it needs to. It should be your place to draw things fast, as they come into your mind. You’re not using it to become a better artist. You’re using it to become a better thinker. Thinking as a designer means drawing and communicating your ideas quickly.

Successful Group Dynamics

Go to the profile of Melody Rose Stein

Melody Rose SteinFollowOct 9, 2014

Groups can be an effective way of accomplishing larger goals with greater efficiency than possible when working alone. However, most of the assigned classwork groups I’ve been a part of have only decreased productivity and simplified individual creativity rather than improve upon it. While these collaborations tended to yield a few innovations, overall the dynamics of the group tended to break down into “doers” and “watchers” with contributions tipping to only one or two people on the team.

However, this summer I was part of a lab group at Shoals Marine Lab that worked efficiently and democratically. This success depended on the number of players involved, the fact that we each chose to work together, and clear but flexible division of labor. Compared to less successful, past team projects there were relatively few players — Rather than several layers of leadership and participants, there was only a core team of four people. Because of this small size, each member was able to work independently and hold some authority over a piece of the project. The burden was never placed entirely on any one person, and instead was divided into individually governed tasks. Another key element of the group’s overall success was the fact that it was not randomly composed — rather, each player had elected to join the group with the knowledge of the specific project and the other members of the team. This aspect was key in avoiding some of the personality/communication style conflicts I experienced in past, assigned group contexts.

My current leadership challenge centers around acting as the director of a product design collective on campus. Through duplicating the aspects that worked well in my lab group, I hope to create an efficient collaborative environment that allows everyone involved in the project to work together cohesively and develop their own ideas through the lens of a team-based system. Rather than recruit as many people as would sign up, I created an application process that allowed both self-selection and a way to more objectively build a strong initial team of interested and committed participants. Over the coming weeks, I intend to break my team into smaller pair groups who will then manage individual projects. These smaller groups will allow the individual participants the greatest freedom to build upon their own ideas fully and maximize the efficiency of decision making, while also maintaining a close and collaborative relationship to the entire team.