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Breaking with the consenual practices of "Groupthink" 

“I remember my father talking passionately about the foolishness of a blockade a few days after that morning of October 15, 1962. He couldn’t understand why President Kennedy was giving the Soviets another chance — dad was adamant that they had already done enough damage two years earlier in foiling Castro’s overthrow by the Brigade 2506. I have heard this story of the Cuban Missile Crisis told many ways since, engraving progressively an image in my mind of one of the greatest decisions of all time.

On that fatal day in late fall, John Kennedy had received confirmation that the Soviets were installing nuclear-armed missiles In Cuba that would put eighty million Americans in danger of instant annihilation. He gathered once again his closest advisors to discuss an appropriate response. He would late write that he had been unable to read Nikita Khrushchev’s thoughts and had no clue as to how the Soviets would react. The hard data at his disposal was imperfect at best — supplied by a military industrial complex in which he had little faith. His experts, many of the same who had so poorly counseled him on the covert action in Cuba, were almost unanimous in their advice of a pre-emptive strike that would begin a Third World War.

Against the advice of his National Security Council (ExComm), he chose to set up a blockade rather than go to war — a response that led the Soviets to abandon their military projects in Cuba a few weeks later. This decision was taken in a climate of uncertainty and ambiguity in which there was no one right answer. The initiative broke with a commonly accepted practice of consensual “groupthink” and instituted a decision-making process designed to probe the decision environment, solicit contradictory points of view, stimulate discussion and debate, and weigh the options that provide the best fit in a given situation. The outcome not only avoided world war at that time, it has changed the basic assumptions of decision science ever since.”

 

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Dr. Lee SCHLENKER is a Professor of Business Analytics and Community Management and a Principal Consultant in the Business Analytics Institute.  Recipient of the EDSF prize for the use of technology in teaching, he is a recognized as an expert for the European Commission in learning analytics.

Lee has  been a guest speaker in corporate conferences for Apple, Cegid, IBM, Oracle, SAP and SAS in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Over the last twenty years, he has led dozens of missions for Big 4 consulting groups  in the manufacturing, telecommunications, public works and service industries.