The Road to Abilene

The quasi-psychotic corporate journey that can only be achieved when great minds come together in pursuit of the totally undesirable, easily approved outcome. This is the road to Abilene. All are welcome. All are welcome...

By Phil Granof
CEO of Protobrand
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Cult

Thanks to a long time friend, I almost joined a cult. Well, not exactly a cult, but it was a reboot of EST from the 70’s, called the Landmark Forum. Three hundred people were shamed by a very charismatic speaker for wanting to leave to go to the bathroom. She said, “You can go to the bathroom if you want to, but the benefits of the program would not be available to you.” Seriously. Unfortunately, I had forgotten my supply of NASA space diapers. To be fair(ish), the goal of Landmark is to help people get over themselves and lead a more authentic life, but their method was not for me.

Of course at this point I was done, but I realized I would probably never get to watch another in vivo experiment like this for a long time. Besides, the 400 bucks was non-refundable. Over the next six or so hours I watched svengali transform a group of intelligent, normal, well-intentioned people into a herd of like-minded buffalo. She was a virtuoso, and the crowd slowly and willingly became extremely pliable. Then it dawned on me: first, I would go to the bathroom, and then when I came back I would take notes on how she had achieved such incredible influence.

Here is what I realized. She was inducing our natural tendency for groupthink by undermining critical thinking with the insidious rotten carrot of total approval, combined with a dash of self-doubt for seasoning. She was leading them with a GPS set right to Abilene. 

I have been in many hundreds of business meetings focused on brand strategy and development. I realized that if I could reverse engineer Landmark’s techniques, I could develop a prescription for overcoming the curse of groupthink, and perhaps ensure a viable means for getting good work out of a group of people. While there are no statues of committees in the parks of all the cities, to paraphrase one of my heroes David Ogilvy, I believe fundamentally that two brains should be better than one, three better than two, and so on. They just have to be wired together correctly.

I wanted the antidote to groupthink that leveraged the power of  “networked” brains without disengaging their critical thinking or ideosyncratic personalities. The woman who ran  Landmark was like Dave in 2001: A Space Odyssey slowly pulling out higher function thinking to remove dissent. What I was looking for was not cohesion, not teamwork, and not cooperation. I was looking for something that I have since defined as Workability. When Workability is high, groups produce amazing things. When Workability is low? Agreement and consensus, followed by knucklehead choices. Otherwise known as bad work.

Over the next few posts, I’ll cover how to begin a project using Workability and explore each of its components:

  1. Imagination
  2. Intention
  3. Involvement
  4. Investment
  5. Integrity

By some miracle of the gods of alliteration they all begin with “I.” This is important, actually. We all know there’s no “I” team, but there is in Workability. In fact, there are two.

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