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Wiser: Getting Beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter

3.60  ·  Rating details ·  391 ratings  ·  54 reviews
Why are group decisions so hard?

Since the beginning of human history, people have made decisions in groups—first in families and villages, and now as part of companies, governments, school boards, religious organizations, or any one of countless other groups. And having more than one person to help decide is good because the group benefits from the collective knowledge of
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published December 23rd 2014 by Harvard Business Review Press (first published December 2nd 2014)
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Heidi The Reader
Mar 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: business, non-fiction
Authors Cass Sunstein and Reid Hastie examine many of the problems that beset groups and how to best address them for optimal group performance.

Written in a style that is more academic than approachable, Wiser uses the findings of multiple researchers to come to its conclusions. This book may be useful to managers who are desiring to set up a group at their own place of employment and want to start on the best foot.

"Do groups usually correct individual mistakes? Our simple answer is that they do
Jul 14, 2021 rated it liked it
Sunstein and Hastie seem to be the right people to discuss how to make groups smarter. Both are professors who have also had practical experience and Sunstein had a top West Wing job in the Obama Administration.

The book spends a good deal of its length breaking down the various ways in which groups fail because of ‘groupthink.’ Here are some of the challenges:

“(Groups) amplify, rather than weaken, reliance on the representativeness heuristic.
“They show more unrealistic overconfidence than do ind
Oct 21, 2018 added it
Shelves: read-for-school
I read like 80% of this and skimmed the other 20% so I'm marking it as "read" ahaha.

It was pretty enjoyable for school reading! I especially liked the part about organizations' over-reliance on the Myers-Briggs test... Also how groups whose members all think similarly, fall into relative consensus, and see another group as opposing them, have a high tendency towards increased polarization... This felt incredibly relevant towards American politics.

On the other hand, while this book claims to offe
Tim Floyd
Mar 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: educ-485
Wow, what a fascinating book. The influence and relationship between individuals and groups described in this book completely messed me up. The research that has been done on individual bias influencing group decisions, the impact of deliberation and cascading thought... there are so many fascinating concepts that surround this study on groupthink!
Mikhael De vera
Feb 10, 2015 rated it it was ok
No clear point. Although there are good insights on behavioral science and organizational development, it only provides a theoretical account on why teams succeed and how why fail.
Paul Froehlich
Jul 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
According to conventional wisdom, two heads are better than one. In other words, group decisions should be better than decisions made by individuals since there are more people pondering them. Not so, contend Reid Hastie and Cass Sunstein, who cite evidence that committees and boards can be more error-prone than individuals. The authors explain why, and offer ways to improve group decision-making.

The evidence, write Hastie and Sunstein, indicate that groups commonly succumb to groupthink, where
Leland Beaumont
Jan 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
When do groups make wise decisions? When do they may foolish decisions? What methods can help groups make wiser decisions? Cass Sunstein and Reid Hastie explore these questions in this helpful book. Part one examines several systemic mechanisms that cause groups to fail. Part two describes approaches that help groups avoid these errors.

During deliberations, group pressures may cause members to agree on a falsehood rather than the truth. Incorrect information may cascade through the group and pre
Jul 23, 2017 rated it liked it
A book with very interesting content (hence my number of stars is possibly a bit harsh) but it reads like someone's scribbled notes or like someone didn't actually have the time to think about how it reads as a book.

The book would have been better (where better = more actionable), in my opinion, had they spent more time attempting to teach people how to categorise problems and then think about how to get the best out of people (+ how many people and what type of people) in that scenario. I can
Dawn Trlak-Donahue
Jan 07, 2015 rated it it was ok
Way too theoretical and boring.
Eric Bergman
Feb 15, 2015 rated it it was ok
Painfully dull. Some good ideas however regarding group decisions and bias. Perhaps best read as a peer reviewed journal article.
Charlie Higbie
Sep 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I found this book to be very well written and to the point with plenty of references. However, I was looking for a book about group dynamics and this helped fill what I was looking for.
Kathy Cowie
This will be in the March-April Issue of Global Business and Organizational Excellence.
Sep 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
This is a technical, somewhat academic study of how we humans think in groups. You should not find it hard to read though if the topic interests you.
We like to think of ourselves as free willing, independent creatures - while ready to believe that other people are simply following the crowd. Sunstein's interest here is mostly focussed on whether groups or individuals have better problem solving or analytic capability, and how to optimise groupthink to iron out poor judgement.
You will find less
Kathryn Davidson
Jan 10, 2022 rated it really liked it
Recommend this book as an add on to the book "The Wisdom of Crowds". "The Wisdom of Crowds" does a good job of setting a framework for the kinds of decisions which benefit from group discussion and which don't. The second half of this book does a good job of suggesting mechanisms for gathering information either from subject matter experts where discussion might lead to a worse rather than better outcome or where biases might prevent the free exchange of important information (which sadly is a s ...more
Feb 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Concise and with references, a good summary of the becoming-very-hip "behavioral science" stuff but thematically focused on group decisions. The primary focus is on evaluating whether groups can correct the mistakes of individuals within the group (surprise: we're not so good at that). Quick read, split into two parts: first, all the mistakes we make and how we make them, followed by practical advise to combat the various forces that drive us in the direction of making horrible mistakes. ...more
Chris Umphlett
Feb 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
The book both gave me more depth on things with which I had some familiarity (prediction markets, crowdsourcing) as well as exposing me to new ideas (most of the first part about why groups fail). I need to go back through and take notes, and importantly, later review those notes so that I can begin to identify when I think I see a group falling victim to some things that might lead to failure.
Jun 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was a book I read for a college course. Despite the class nature of the book, I enjoyed Sunstein's thoughts on group think and how that changes our communication and our overall effectiveness as a group. Interesting read. ...more
Feb 08, 2020 rated it liked it
Readable summation of research on positive and negative group dynamics. Reads more like an Atlantic article expanded to 200 pages rather than a book. But the pitfalls and recommendations are sound - if many of the 'examples' are less so. ...more
Feb 09, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Good analysis of the issues of group thinking and practical strategy to avoid its pitfall. Change the order of speaking, encourage info share, introduce expert, and maybe a devil speaker to always point out the negative
Jul 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Great layperson summary of groups that work and how to make them more successful.
jason l white
Dec 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Group dynamics

Lots of interesting threads to think through & explore further in how to build & promote group effectiveness. Hope there is a sequel.
Aug 10, 2021 rated it really liked it
Great insight, but a little dry at times
Brandon Ledford
Group work has become something we can't escape, so we might as well learn how to do it right. Sunstein and Hastie take the reader through what makes group work challenging and how to make it better. ...more
Oct 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
The concept of Wiser is excellent: take all the recent behavioural research on how people make decisions (popularised in Thinking, Fast and Slow, Predictably Irrational, Scarcity, Nudge, etc.), and see how it applies to groups, rather than individuals.

Is there, for example, an equivalent of Daniel Kahneman's "System 2"—where slower thinking can help avoid instinctive mistakes—for group decisions?

The short answer: Unfortunately not.

The longer answer: Left to their own devices, groups will natura
Mar 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
Good academic read on what makes group performance effective or ineffective. Pushing past halo effect and social pressures to hide useful information may protect from amplifying and cascading errors, and polarization.

Delphi method (initial anonymity) has its usefulness in attaining honest feedback when accompanied with reasons for their views. Eventually, you still have to deliberate and try to come up with the best solution.

Finding group members who prefer to work in teams improves the effecti
Jan 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
The main idea

How can we ensure we can make better group decisions? Drawing on the latest business and social science research the authors provide concrete ways in which organizations can improve their group decision making processes.

Interesting tidbit

One of the co-authors, Cass Sunstein, in addition to being a prolific author and public intellectual was also Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

What you really need to know

Group decisions sometimes work.
Sean Goh
Dec 25, 2015 rated it liked it
Groupthink and how to overcome it in a book.

Happy talk, or telling your superiors/group that everything is going well, is a pervasive source of group failures.

Leaders would do well to have a streak of anxiousness to ask the question: What am I missing here?, because more likely than not their subordinates won't ask that question.

Groups can be highly innovative, if divergent thinking is nurtured and minority views are welcome.

A great risk of group deliberation is that it will si
Apr 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 311-312
Sunstein continues here on the path of his bestselling Nudges (co-authored by James Thaler), though this book is the more technical, perhaps not as marketable, and not coincidentally the better book. Nudges, too, was directed toward bureaucrats and decision-makers, but there the inferences were directed toward the disciplines of education, psychology, politics, design, and business as though the disciplinary frameworks had themselves failed in the cultivation of individual self-interest; too lar ...more
May 19, 2016 rated it liked it
The thesis of this book is that contrary to conventional wisdom, group decision making often yields poor results. It provides examples, reasons and solutions from scenarios involving governments, corporations and committees, as well as offering solutions based on successful group decision making case studies.

It's definitely an informative and useful read, but it can be a bit redundant at times. Many of the reasons groups fail (failure to share information, reluctance of group members to contrad
Ray Johns
Jan 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
Cass Sunstein and Reid Hastie do an excellent job at exploring the many ways that we tend to shut down discussion, lose or miss invaluable information that can be used to make better decisions and understanding on an issue or problem-solving dilemma. We need to cast as wide a net as possible to advance civic inclusiveness as the path to more stable , cohesive communities . The authors provide an excellent source index on additional reading . It also includes some innovative websites set up by Ob ...more
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Cass R. Sunstein is an American legal scholar, particularly in the fields of constitutional law, administrative law, environmental law, and law and behavioral economics, who currently is the Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration. For 27 years, Sunstein taught at the University of Chicago Law School, where he continues to teach as ...more

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25 likes · 3 comments
“do not be misled by expert bravado or by an expert’s own sense of how he or she is doing. Evidence is a much better guide than an impressive self-presentation.” 3 likes
“Janis believed that groups are especially likely to suffer from groupthink if they are cohesive, have highly directive leadership, and are insulated from experts.” 3 likes
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