Monday, March 02, 2015

The Abilene Paradox - A Management Parable ...

Discovered this today on Professor Leighton Vaughan Williams' site - Very interesting for Maths Geeks and Number Nerds, by the way.

Not heard it before, but yes, it's very familiar. Originally by George Washington University Professor Emeritus of Management, Jerry B. Harvey.


On a hot afternoon visiting in Coleman, Texas, the family is comfortably playing dominoes on a porch, until the father-in-law suggests that they take a trip to Abilene [53 miles North] for dinner.

The wife says, “Sounds like a great idea.”

The husband, despite having reservations because the drive is long and hot, thinks that his preferences must be out-of-step with the group and says, “Sounds good to me. I just hope your mother wants to go.”

The mother-in-law then says, “Of course I want to go. I haven’t been to Abilene in a long time.”

The drive is hot, dusty, and long. When they arrive at the cafeteria, the food is as bad as the drive. They arrive back home four hours later, exhausted.

One of them dishonestly says, “It was a great trip, wasn’t it?”

The mother-in-law says that, actually, she would rather have stayed home, but went along since the other three were so enthusiastic.

The husband says, “I wasn’t delighted to be doing what we were doing. I only went to satisfy the rest of you.”

The wife says, “I just went along to keep you happy. I would have had to be crazy to want to go out in the heat like that.”

The father-in-law then says that he only suggested it because he thought the others might be bored.

The group sits back, perplexed that they together decided to take a trip which none of them wanted. They each would have preferred to sit comfortably, but did not admit to it when they still had time to enjoy the afternoon.

Moral : Hard to tell. But my take on it is this: Individuals within a group, seeking to compromise, and perhaps over-wary of being 'bullish', too often allow the agenda to be set by others, who's motivation for a chosen set course may well be as ambivalent as everybody else's.

So, If you have a say in the matter, stick to your guns, state your case (that's Integrity) but go with the majority (that's Democracy).