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Clanthink, Groupthink, Spreadthink

Everyone has heard of the term “groupthink“. However, have you ever heard of the terms “clanthink” or “spreadthink” applied to a group of people? John Warfield, a prolific systems thinker who’s been ignored for decades by the mainstream, defines these three types of psychological phenomena as follows:

Clanthink = Everyone in the group believes in the idea/concept, but it’s outright wrong. Those outside of the group that don’t believe the idea/concept are ostracized, tortured, killed……. or all of the above.
Groupthink = Everyone believes in the idea/concept, but tantalizingly, it could be either wrong or right. If the group is wrong and all of the the individuals outside of the groupthink circle of membership remain steadfastly silent out of fear of persecution, then the group, and those that that they lead, all suffer.
Spreadthink = Everyone in the group places a different level of importance and meaning on the idea/concept.

Classic clanthink examples are: 1) the massive group of flat-earthers back in Columbus’ time; 2) the church-brainwashed, sun-revolves-around-the-earth-because-humans-are-the-center-of-the-universe gang back in the Galileo era. Can you think of others, besides whack jobs like: Hitler’s inner circle,  Enron executives, George W. Bush WMD disciples, the Moonies, scientologists?

Groupthink is  a weaker, but much more common form of clanthink. The cult size is much smaller, but there are many more groupthink groups than clanthink groups, especially in the business domain. Just about every organization in the world is infected with groupthink to some extent because they are hierarchically structured. Hierarchically structured pyramids of rank, privilege, and I’m-smarter-than-you step-ladder-idiots are especially rife with the stank of groupthink. The higher up you go, the more groupthinkage there is. Why? Because (almost) everyone wants to get to the head shed in order to acquire the material riches and titles that hierarchs sprinkle upon themselves. Thus, the exclusive club members: 1) unconsciously accept whatever idea/concept/method the next hierarch above them espouses, 2) kiss ass, and 3) say “yes massa” in order to facilitate their next step up the gold plated ladder of privilege.

In my mind, spreadthink is the most interesting concept in Warfield’s trio. Each person is, duhhhh, an individual. Thus, each person will naturally have an internally created, different opinion on any given issue. In environments that facilitate/enable/catalyze the public externalization of each individual person’s true thoughts and opinions, spreadthink will naturally emerge. In such a situation, assuming that the group has an a-priori agreement on how to make and execute a decision, the “best” course of action may be achieved. Hierarchies, by the physical and meta-physical shackles that the pyramidal structural pattern imposes on their members, are anathema to the diversity of spreadthink. Bummer, cuz the corpo pyramid, an  unnatural structure of human creation, hubris, and self-aggrandizement, isn’t gonna go away soon.

Hierarchy will never go away. Never. – Tom Peters

  1. February 26, 2012 at 7:49 am

    Dear Bulldozer00, I really like your entry on: Clanthink, Groupthink, Spreadthink
    Maybe you have missed Linkthink ?
    I have just added Spreadthink to WIKIPEDIA: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spreadthink
    and maybe we can share and build together towards “true democracy”? Heiner

    • February 26, 2012 at 8:27 am

      Thanks Heiner. Since I’ve never heard of “Linkthink”, I definitely missed it, but the name sounds interesting. What does “Linkthink” mean?

      Your freshly minted wikipedia page is terrific! I take it that you are a fan of Mr. Warfield’s work.

      I don’t know how to answer your last question. It’s quite a tall order, no?

  2. February 26, 2012 at 9:54 am

    Thanks Bulldozer XX
    thanks for responding immediately.
    Mthis answers some of your questions:
    http://quergeist.net/Warfield/ http://www.newciv.org/nl/newslog.php/_v396/__show_day/_w2012-02-21

    I must say, I have read your entry again carefully, it is very deep, intuitive and insightful, so where did you find your sources, and are you also in our field of systems, pathologies and democracy/participation !?

    You asked about true democracy? It is “work in gropress” Maybe check the materials mentioned at this YouTube clip: Freedom of Expression – Speakers Corner http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzx5wXvAjbc and maybe this TALK-COMMUNICATION: http://vimeo.com/15945332

    I will try to connect the GLOBAL AGORA and 21stCenturyAgora bunch as I feel that they will also like your entry and blog. Please check: http://www.globalagoras.org & http://21stcenturyagora.org/ cheers & cu HEiner

    • February 27, 2012 at 7:38 am

      Thanks for all the links Heiner. Way back in the 80’s, I discovered the work of William L. Livingston and it had a profound impact on my thinking. From there on, I discovered Warfield, Starkermann, Beer, Wiener, Forrester, Meadows, Lazlo, Jackson, Ackoff, Argyris, Bertallanfy, etc. I’ve had a keen interest in “sysrtems thinking” since then.

      I’m a software engineer with a background in electrical engineering. I don’t do any intense research for my blog posts. I write mostly what comes to mind – so it is heavily tainted with opinion. After all, I’m a l’artiste. 🙂

  3. February 28, 2012 at 5:14 am

    The link doesn’t seem to work: “Proxy Error”. I also watched the videos but I don’t speak German 🙂

  1. September 30, 2009 at 1:24 am
  2. December 11, 2011 at 1:01 am

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