Tag Archives: groupthink

Act a fool at work

A jester in the middle ages

A jester in the middle ages

The first of April, or April Fools’ Day, is a yearly event where most people are wary the whole day. Jokers all over the community are trying to pull a joke on you.

In the middle ages it was common for a king to have a jester, a fool, in his counsel. Because of the hard times, it was not so strange to have a counsel full of yay-sayers. Who would dare to oppose to what the king was saying? Your head could be at stake (literally). To overcome this problem the king introduced the jester at his counsel. The fool could say or do what he want. He didn’t get any punishment for bashing on the ideas of the group or king. His job was to make all ideas ridiculous so the members of the counsel could take a look at them from another perspective.

We can link this to modern concepts in the corporate world.


An important part in coaching is giving honest feedback about facts. If you’re not able to give honest feedback to the coachee, he will not be aware of his blind spots and could make bad decisions. While in other industries like eg. sports coaching is more common, in the corporate world coaching is still considered only needed when “one’s in trouble”. Additionally, coaching is not only for the king, the CEO, applicable, but can be a useful instrument at all levels in the organisation.

Do you have a coach already? Who is giving you honest feedback and helping you discover your blind spots?

More on coaching:


If you would remove the fear element from the meeting, the counsel full of yay-sayers resembles at lot the modern principle of groupthink. When equal minded groups work together they have the tendency to agree on the same and come to the same conclusions and decisions. There’s no healthy debate nor discussions and group think might even lead to ignoring important details.

A classroom example of groupthink is the scenario which took place during the attack on Pearl Harbor. There were many early warning signals that an attack from the Japanese was pending, but because of groupthink one sought for confirmation of positive signals, that is “all is save” (more information here). Symptoms of groupthink which played a role in the attack on Pearl Harbor were, amongst others, the illusion of invulnerability, discarding information from outsiders and the illusion of unanimity.

Do you have a fool in your meetings? Or maybe you are the fool? (pun intended)


In the TED presentation “Dare to disagree“, Margaret Heffernan discusses the need of someone trying to proof your wrong. In a medical research project the scientist had one assistant whose only role was to prove the scientist wrong. The advantage of this was that your ideas get challenged and you don’t stop at might what have looked like the first success.

More on healthy conflict:

Additional reading

Archetypes, Blind Spots and Court Jesters

What to Ask the Person in the Mirror: Critical Questions for Becoming a More Effective Leader and Reaching Your Potential

Overcoming groupthink

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