Group Decision

by Yule Heibel on April 28, 2003

Here in British Columbia, the Women in the Woods today posted a last ditch message on Victoria’s Indymedia. Betty Krawczyk writes, “The ancient forests hold the history of human and animal evolution as well as the earth’s evolution. We humans evolved along with these awesome wonders, and to degrade them for the momentary profit of a few is to degrade the human race and the earth itself.” She concludes with a plea for more help, for more women to come to the Walbran Forest: “We, Women In the Woods, and our supporters, are making a last-ditch stand to save these wild forests that hold our biological and spiritual evolution. Please come join us. We need you. The forest needs you. All that is beautiful of this earth needs you. Come to the Walbran.” As it happens, my husband sent me a transcript he found through of a talk by Jared Diamond called, “Why do some societies make disastrous decisions?” Diamond’s analysis focusses on how and why groups make the wrong decisions, and it’s perfectly applicable to my provincial government. Apropos of environmental disasters, Diamond describes how the failures of group decision making pile up: “First of all, a group may fail to anticipate a problem before the problem actually arrives. Secondly, when the problem arrives, the group may fail to perceive the problem. Then, after they perceive the problem, they may fail even to try to solve the problem. Finally, they may try to solve it but may fail in their attempts to do so. While all this talking about reasons for failure and collapses of society may seem pessimistic, the flip side is optimism: namely, successful decision-making. Perhaps if we understand the reasons why groups make bad decisions, we can use that knowledge as a check list to help groups make good decisions.” To read the entire transcript, click on Jared Diamond and scroll nearly halfway down the page. It’s a very richly illustrated, concretely made, argument, and it will help people to understand why their governments or business leaders might, despite all appearances of expertise to the contrary, still be making the wrong decisions, and why the warnings of a small assembly of opposition in the face of organized power can be right.

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