KNOWING WHEN AND HOW TO STOP
© 1998 John Perkins
Excitation or inhibition, the fundamental states of our nervous
cells (Pavlov, 1966: 354), also describes in a gross binary way
we face singly, in pairs, in groups, as a nation, and as a species.
Hamlet ponders his fate in his "to be or not to be" solloquy;
more prosaically we do the same: does the team stay in town, or leave?
I stay in this relationship for the indefinite future, or do I get out
Scholars who study decision making like to present the process as one
stages (Poole & Hirokawa, 1986; Janis and Mann, 1977). Each stage
has some tasks which need to be completed before the decision making
moves to the next stage. After leaving a stage, people will not return
it as a matter of routine, but will make incremental adjustments to
original decision as experience accrues (Janis and Mann, 1977: 75).
and research confirm that decisions must be made in an imperfect world;
that is, the decider(s) will not have all of the information, nor will
or she be able to perfectly predict the behavior of others; sometimes
decider(s) cannot even predict their own behavior (Staw, 1989; Of
Knowing when, and how to, stop has been the shadow side of decision
I personally began to understand this during my time as an anti-war
in the 1980's. As I watched government policy as described publicly in
media, I understood that the governments which had nuclear weapons had
serious criteria-and thus no intentions-of stopping.
I remember a fellow activist and I discussing this point. She commented
that when she attended public discussions on nuclear power plants, she
would ask what the utility's plans were if they had to close the plant.
They had started something, without thinking through what they would do
if they had to end it. They never had a plan, and seem confused by the
The third source of my reflections on stopping come from when I worked
elementary students in the South Bronx on issues of decision making and
self-esteem. For one of our exercises, I would ask them to describe
you used to say 'yes' to that you now say 'no' to, and something you
to say 'no' to that you now say 'yes' to." We would role-play the
and have fun with people resisting being persuaded.
I turned to the serious problem of their upcoming adolescence. By a
of hands, all of them felt confident they would not take illegal drugs.
But the reality was that many of them would. A one time experiment
or might not, be anything to get too upset about. "But," I asked,
"do you have what it takes to say 'yes' once, then 'no' for the rest
of your life? It's not the first time that makes you an addict-it's the
fifth, the thirteenth, the sixty-fifth time. And remember, when you try
it, it might give you an experience of sights, sounds, colors, and
you've never had before, and could never have without the use of
drugs. Can you then say 'no' to that drug?" I reminded them that the
next six to eight years of their lives would probably be the hardest,
the decisions they made as fifth and sixth graders about what they
do, or not do, would affect those years, and the rest of their lives. I
said once they reached junior high school, life and choices would come
them fast and furiously. I ended by telling them we live in a culture
is great in encouraging them to start things, but nearly silent about
to stop or prevent things.
With these personal experiences alerting me, I included this study as a
unit in my program, focusing at the organizational level. Knowing how
when to stop has basically two discontinuous moments of truth: deciding
to stop before going public and deciding to stop once the decision is
Closing what Meyer and Zucker (1989) call permanently failing
to end projects or institutions which once had experienced
cases of public decision making.
In the case of decisions which some the deciders themselves will later
as patent folly, the best policy appears to stop early and privately.
deciders make decisions with incomplete information and only guesses to
how others might behave. Section One, Folly on the March, will take up
problem in greater detail.
Publicity about a decision, or publicly implementing one, widens the
of participants and observers, and thus the difficulty of stopping
substantially. The decision becomes rigid and resistant to changes
1980: 43). This is because stopping "in the middle" or "before
the end" has added difficulties of how to manage one's own "face"
or public reputation (Bohannon, 1993; Ting-Toomey, 1994); how to
involved others that stopping what you once supported makes more sense
and how to deal with incurred psychological, symbolic, material, and
costs. This complex area of decision making will be considered in
Two: In Too Far to Quit?
In the last section of the paper, Can Folly be Prevented?, I will
some tentative recommendations and reflect on my experience of
Section One: Folly on the March
When Barbara Tuchman looked at the March of Folly (1984)
history, she established some criteria for what she would consider
Her three criteria can help distinguish between foolishness and an
mistake. To fit her definition of folly, a course of action:
(1) must have been perceived as counter-productive in its
time, not by hindsight;
(2) a feasible alternative course of action must have been available;
(3) the policy in question must be that of a group, not of individual
and should persist beyond any one political lifetime (p. 5).
Taking up Tuchman's third criteria, in 1972, Irving Janis described
of the difficulties posed for the "group" in his ground-breaking
book, Groupthink. The groupthink hypothesis asserts that "the existence
of certain antecedent conditions within groups of decision makers
in defective decision-making processes, which in turn are linked to
policy outcomes" (Schafer and Crichlow, 1996: 415). Schafer and
in their quantitative review of this theory, simplified Janis's
model to three stages as shown in this figure.
From an exhaustive review of Janis's works, Schafer and Crichlow
a refined list of operational definitions for ten antecedent
1. Group insulation: Decision makers isolate
from others not in the immediate decision making circle.
2. Lack of tradition of impartial leadership: The president has
had a history of conducting impartial decision-making processes, which
limits open discussion of a wide range of alternatives.
3. Lack of tradition of methodical procedures: The president
not established a tradition of using methodical procedures in the
process in terms of information search, routine and systematic
meetings, and analysis of pros and cons.
4. Group homogeneity: A lack of disparity exists in the social
and ideology of the members of the decision-making group.
5. Perceived short time constraint: The group suffers under
temporal limits that affect its ability to consider policy options
6. Low self-esteem caused by recent failure: Recent political
military defeat weights on the minds of members of the decision-making
and affects current decisions.
7. High personal stress: The crisis being dealt with causes
anxiety because of either the stakes involved and the perceived chances
of success or unpleasant policy options.
8. Overestimation of the group: The group operates under an
of invulnerability or a belief in its inherent morality.
9. Closed-mindedness: The group relies on collective
stereotypes of the out-group, or guiding metaphors or analogies.
10. Pressure towards uniformity: One or more of the following
self-censorship, an illusion of unanimity, direct pressure on
self-appointed mind guards (pp. 418-419).
Schafer and Crichlow investigated the same 19 Cold War crises that
had used to test the groupthink hypothesis in 1987 (Hekek, et al). They
used bivariate analysis to correlate each of the ten conditions with
level of information processing errors. Four of the ten antecedent
proved statistically significant and in the predicted direction: lack
tradition of impartial leadership, lack of tradition of methodical
overestimation of the group, and closed-mindedness. A fifth condition,
towards uniformity, came very close to significance and accounted for
percent of the variance on its own and was in the expected direction as
well (p. 423). When lumped together, Schafer and Crichlow found that
five variables showed almost a one to one correlation between faulty
environments and the number of information-processing errors (p. 425).
None of the three situational variables-short time constraint, high
stress, and recent failure-proved significant. In fact, short time
and high personal stress seemed to reduce information processing
In other words, some contextual conditions result in more vigilant
An Example of Groupwisdom
Interestingly, two of the four significant antecedents to groupthink
the phrase "lack of tradition." The American Heritage dictionary
defines tradition as
1. The passing down of elements of a culture from
to generation, especially by oral communication.
2.a. A mode of thought or behavior followed by a people
from generation to generation; a custom or usage. b. A set of
customs and usages viewed as a coherent body of precedents influencing
Which teases out this idea: not only must the group learn to remain
(to overcome overestimation) and learn to tolerate ambiguity (to
close-mindedness), it must continuously examine and deepen its own
of decision making, authority, membership, argument, etc. In other
in groupthink mode the group lacks a tradition of inquiry into its own
of behaving in normal and stressful situations.
Campbell and Nash in A Sense of Mission (1992) describe how some
payments by one of its overseas operations prompted Johnson &
president James Burke to launch a series of Credo Challenge Meetings.
and Porras (1994) also cite Johnson & Johnson as one of their
companies" because of the impact these meetings had on the decision
making processes in the company.
In 1975, Johnson & Johnson had annual sales of about $12 billion
had developed a management culture resistant to centralization
and Nash: 138). General Robert Wood Johnson published The Johnson &
Johnson Credo in 1945 for the enlightenment of other business people.
entire document fits easily on a single page. It lists four valued
each given a full paragraph which defines the relationship and
Johnson & Johnson's expected obligations to that relationship. The
on the next page summarizes the 1975 revised Credo.
After much debate, including reservations from the chairman and CEO who
that felt the Credo should be above "challenge," President Burke
decided to hold company-wide discussions about the value of the Credo
1975. The Credo was then thirty years old. With the Credo Challenge
Burke began a "long-range program to challenge every manager to make
an informed commitment to the Credo's way of doing business" (p. 143).
In other words, he began what might turn into a new tradition. Indeed,
Challenge Meetings are still held for new managers (p. 146).
Since 1975, over 1200 managers have participated in Credo Challenge
gathering for two days in groups of 25. These meetings made a point of
discussing how the Credo should be implemented in the management of the
Johnson & Johnson company. Interestingly, during these discussions,
Burke's boss, the chairman/CEO, sometimes had to excuse himself because
he "breathed too heavily on the process" (p. 145). In the language
of antecedent conditions to groupthink, he could not maintain
Burke called the results, "A turn on. A genuine happening" (p.
145). He learned that managers felt that balancing all of their
required discussion because of the difficulty of the task, and most
felt intense commitment to preserving the Credo. Another result of
Credo Challenge Meetings is that managers facing a decision pause to
upon what the Credo would say to do, and discussions based on the Credo
have become habitual (p. 148). In essence, they added a step which
Janis's antecedents of decision making: continually discuss
values and seek personal commitments to them. Schafer and Crichlow's
can be modified to show how Groupwisdom might operate:
| Table 1. Elements in Johnson
& Johnson's 1975 Revised Credo
|Customers: doctors, nurses, patients,
|| We must strive to reduce our costs in order to maintain
prices. Customers' orders must be serviced promptly and accurately.
|| Must have an opportunity to make a fair profit.
||We must respect their dignity and recognize their merit. They
a sense of security in their jobs. Compensation must be fair and
and working conditions clean, orderly, and safe. Employees must feel
to make suggestions and complaints. We must provide competent
and their actions must be just and ethical.
|Communities where people
live and work
||We must be good citizens-support good works and charities
and bear our fair share of taxes. We must maintain in good order the
we are privileged to use, protecting the environment and natural
||Business must make a sound profit. We must experiment
with new ideas. Research must be carried on, innovative programs
and mistakes paid forWhen we operate according to these principles, the
stockholders should realize a fair return.
(adapted from Campbell and Nash, p. 141).
Why discuss this in a paper about failures of group decision making?
only studying failures may not point to where success lies. The Credo
prepared Johnson & Johnson to succeed dramatically in making
decisions under great time pressure and uninvited public scrutiny.
In 1982, Johnson & Johnson's Tylenol brand pain-killer held 37
of the domestic market. It led the market. Ironically, it had been
the same year that the Credo Challenge Meetings began. On September 30,
1982, seven people died in Chicago from taking cyanide-tainted Tylenol.
Shortly after the news reached Johnson & Johnson, they recalled
bottles and sent almost half a million messages to doctors, hospitals,
retailers warning them about the tainted capsules. Within a week they
recall or replace 22 million capsules. On the day after the poisonings,
Johnson & Johnson canceled all advertising for the brand, except
one ad asking for the public's continued trust in Johnson & Johnson
They set up a toll-free number-staffed by employees volunteering their
customers to get a refund without submitting proof of purchase. One
the toll-free number handled over a million calls, but many of those
good wishes from the public.
Everyone, the media, government, and employees, watched how Johnson
Johnson would respond. At its conclusion, one employee said:
Tylenol was the tangible proof of what they said at the
Challenge Meetings. You came away saying, "My God! You're right: we
really do believe this. It's for real. And we did the right thing."
Actually, the whole organization had spent seven years preparing itself
to act principally. It prepared itself to respond quickly and
to bad news.2 With their masterful handling of the crisis, Johnson
Johnson returned Tylenol to the shelves with tamper-resistant
Backed by a massive marketing effort, the brand regained 95 percent of
previous market share and once again led the field (p. 154).
Responding in a crisis situation defines just one type of
a group is likely to face. Far more difficult to gauge and respond
to are situations where the problem takes a long time to become
I turn to those types of situations next.
Section Two: In too far to Quit?
Great is the art of beginning,
but greater is the art of ending.
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Anyone attempting to stop something once it becomes public faces a
task. By public I mean the tangible proofs of a decision, whether begun
or just proposed. This includes: major projects such as the closing of
missions to land a person on the moon, even setting a date for a
Decision making under public scrutiny has been described by different
as escalating situations, permanently failing situations, and
policy making. In escalating situations efforts to recoup losses simply
increase the losses (Staw and Ross, 1989). In permanently failing
(Meyer and Zucker, 1989) what one group perceives as failure other
interpret as acceptable, or even as successful. According to Schulman
large-scale situations, whether successful or failing, create
and personal commitments which resist being changed.
Escalating situations often turn on the very first commitment to a
of action. In other words, once "go" gets the nod, decision makers
don't look back. Note the care General George C. Marshall, as Secretary
of State, took in 1948 to point out to Congress how difficult it would
to extricate the country from a military commitment to back the Chinese
Nationalists: It would involve this government in a continuing
from which it would practically be impossible to withdraw" (Neustadt
and May, 1986: 248-249).
Unfortunately, "who lost China" became the shibboleth of the fifties,
which may have prevented the bureaucracy from clearly pointing out the
of escalating in Vietnam. Still, George Ball did attempt to warn
Johnson of the dangers of escalating in Vietnam:
The decision you face now is crucial. Once large numbers of
U.S. troops are committed to direct combat, they will begin to take
casualties in a war they are ill-equipped to fight in a noncooperative
not downright hostile countryside. Once we suffer large casualties, we
have started a well-nigh irreversible process. Our involvement will be
great that we cannot-without national humiliation-stop short of
our complete objectives. Of the two possibilities I think humiliation
be more likely than the achievement of our objectives-even after we
paid terrible costs (quoted by Staw and Ross: 1989: 216, quoting from
Staw and Ross's (1989) article "Understanding Behavior in Escalating
Situations" begins with this quote from Ball. They describe "escalating
situations" as "situations in which losses have resulted from
an original course of action, but where there is the possibility of
the situation around by investing further time, money, and or effort."
In our daily living we face making decisions in escalating contexts,
what to do with a stalled career, falling investments, or a faltering
(Staw and Ross, 1989: 216).
Some insights into escalating situations might come from looking at
Though a gambler might play dozens of spins of the wheel at the
table in an evening, after the initial decision to play at all,
bets are not genuine decisions, merely a continuation of that first
Dostoevsky described this moment before the plunge in The Gambler:
I confess that my heart was pounding in my breast and that
didn't feel at all cool and detached; probably I had felt for a long
already that I would leave Roulettenberg a different man and that
was about to happen which would radically and irrevocably change my
I felt that it was bound to happen (in Leonard, 1989: 39).
One can see in another Dostoevsky passage what Janis called
I believe I had something like four thousand gulden in my
within five minutes. That's when I should have quit. But a funny
came over me, some sort of desire to challenge Fate, an uncontrollable
to stick my tongue out at it, to give it a flip on the nose (p. 38).
Note the "funny feeling" Dostoevsky's gambler gets. Here literature
points to a facet of escalation some research misses: there exists
in the emotion-action-results process of persistent gambling which
a hunger beyond material success or failure. The gambler, confronted
losing at the wheel, dice, horses, cards, etc. confronts reality's
to their intense feelings of confidence. He or she attempts to regain
the confident feeling of precognition and external success by
his or her betting. The gambler continues until all is lost.
From a review of research in the laboratory and the "real world,"
Staw and Ross have uncovered four classes of determinants-project,
social and organizational-for this persistence in losing situations
216). Each of these determinants possesses, naturally, both rational
meta-rational dimensions. Though the research into these determinants
been uneven, the existence of multiple determinants of commitment and
leads Staw and Ross to view escalation as multidetermined. Persistent
of a failing course may most likely happen in situations characterized
a series of seemingly insufficient small-impact variables, as say, the
of a few dollars on a particular bet out of a original stake of several
hundred dollars. They add, "A slow and irregular decline may not only
make a line of behavior difficult to extinguish (in the reinforcement
sense), but may allow the forces for persistence to grow over time"
"Slow and irregular decline" can also be named permanent failure.
In their book on Permanently Failing Organizations, Meyer and Zucker
researched the literature on low performing organizations and presented
four case studies:
These cases share some characteristics identified by Meyer and Zucker:
future benefits, multiple goals, and decline" (p.80). Anticipated
benefits mean that some people involved believe that continuing the
even in the face of disappointing performance or long-term decline, may
still bring benefits in the future. Competing groups contest how to
the benefits (and decline) and to whom the benefits accrue, which leads
to multiple goals. In the case of the closing steel mills, for example,
stockholders would view closing uncompetitive mills as a sound business
decision while communities viewed the same news as "bombshells"
(p. 40). Naturally, given the divergent ways in which parties measure
whether or not an organization is even "failing" and in a state
of decline becomes a matter of opinion. For example, in the case of the
high school, measured financially it had ceased to pay its way, but
educationally it continued to be an outstanding success story. Who gets
to name the measures of performance?
The decline of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, the only paper actually
founded by William Randolph Hearst, and once the flagship of the Hearst
publishing empire-endured a nine year strike from 1967 to 1976 and the
remains divided on whether to sell the paper or to attempt a comeback;
A worker-owned meat packing company where workers picketed their own
declined for 15 years under various organizational schemes before going
The attempt of the Los Angeles Archdiocese to sell off an
Catholic boys' high school without anticipating the reactions of the
or the Latino alumni, ninety percent of whom had gone on to college and
successful careers-the Archdiocese reversed its decision after eighteen
months of controversy and in the face of a well coordinated "Save
High" campaign; and
The divergent motivations of steel mill owners when contrasted with
of their employees and the communities in which the mills
and communities established new quasi-governmental institutions which
take over mills by exercising powers of eminent domain with the stated
of protecting the jobs, and communities, dependent on the mills (pp.
To the three common qualities identified by Meyer and Zucker, I humbly
three more. First, none had an explicit and public process for closing
operations. In the incorporation papers for organizations the initial
must describe what they will do in the case the organization has to
When an organization is one week old, this can be answered with a
when it is several decades old, more is needed.
Second, three of the four cases had a wide range of people who
for a right to participate in the decision, even though they were not
These people often recruited other people of wider social or political
to the cause of keeping the organization operating. Meyer and Zucker
these secondary interests "dependent actors" (p. 24) and offered
this description of this role:
Workers, who receive solely wage or salary compensation;
community, which receives only the side benefits of firm operation in
form of employment, purchasing power, and access to goods and services
by the firm; and the organizations using the firm's products as inputs,
requiring the firm's services, or selling their products to the firm,
in a position of dependency and therefore have the motivation to
the maintenance of the firm apart from its efficiency and resulting
This motivation is relatively constant, hence it weakens the relation
performance to persistence (p. 93-94).
Third, the people initially identifying the organization as being in
failed to understand the emotional-symbolic connections others had with
the organization. Organizations take on significant symbolic meaning
people whose lives they have previously touched, as well as for current
dependent actors, as can be seen in the Herald Examiner and Catholic
school cases. Failing to understand this connection leaves those
to suspend operations baffled by the emotion and energy people put into
keeping the organization "alive." They also misstep significantly
right at the beginning of their effort to close by not informing
actors well enough in advance and by not making sure people can find a
to ritualistically say good-bye to-while somehow remaining emotionally
touch with-their "symbol" (Bridges, 1991: 31). They unwittingly
step in to the quagmire of changing behaviors and expectations about
operations, which I will turn to next.
The political scientist Paul Schulman makes a case in Large-Scale
Making (1980) that large-scale projects need special handling, almost a
new way of being conceptualized. The way forward, or back, may not be
and continuous. He notes that
large-scale policy pursuits are beset by organizational
or "critical mass" points closely associated with both their initiation
and subsequent developmentThe large-scale policy objective typically
psychological, technological, organizational, and administrative
over which it must "leap" discontinuously if it is to establish
and sustain itself (p.28).
And I will add that these discontinuous leaps reappear when a
project needs to reverse itself and shut down operations. Essentially,
projects generate formal and informal agreements among lots of people,
then participate in doing the work of the project. The Nobel Laureate
Kenneth Arrow has neatly summarized the dilemma:
The problem is that agreements are typically harder to
than individual decisions. When you have committed not only yourself
many others to an enterprise, the difficulty of changing becomes
If it is done on a conscious level, we have all the formalities
in persuading others to change their minds. What may be hardest of all
change are unconscious agreements, agreements whose very purpose is
in our minds (1974: 28).
The discontinuities exist externally as well as within individual
makers-and within involved decision making groups. A change, even a
one, begins to feel to the decision maker, and well may be interpreted
others, as a personal error and failure, though he or she or they
and acted in good faith for the benefit of the organization. This
in overprotection and rigidity in decision-making processes by those
power because even small changes come to mean admissions of error
p. 50). Paradoxically, persisting in the error, sometimes at enormous
becomes preferred by people identified with the decision to admitting
a mistake in judgment. Persisting in folly, as Barbara Tuchman points
displays a certain lack of courage:
Persistence in error is the problem. there is always the
of choice to change or desist from a counter-productive course if the
has the moral courage to exercise it. He [or she] is not a fated
blown by the whims of Homeric gods. Yet to recognize error, to cut
to alter course, is the most repugnant option in government (p. 383).
Section Three: Can Folly be Prevented?
Can folly be prevented? Maybe not, but its incidence might be reduced.
Tuchman thinks that individual leaders need better and longer training,
and that the public needs to peer into their character before allowing
to assume the reins (puns with reigns) of office (p. 384). What can we
while waiting for this enlightened educational policy, and the
populace which will nurture it? Plenty, I think. I will call my
The leading anticipatory condition must be the continuous practice of
discussions of an organization's values and moral beliefs. This keeps
makers conscious of how their actions might support or undermine
values. Clearly, the example provided by Johnson & Johnson shows
value of talking about morals. It is noteworthy that moral issues
by Senator Fulbright and Arthur Schlesinger did not get discussed by
advisors before the Bay of Pig invasion in 1962 (Janis, 1972: 157).
Anticipatory conditions two through six are the active, positive
of the significant antecedents Schafer and Crichlow identified. These
be listed later.
One of the fascinating features of groupthink is how partial the
makers thinking becomes, perhaps as a way to cope with their anxiety by
limiting the scope of what they would think about. Neustadt and May in
in Time (1986) have identified this tendency to "ignore whatever seems
not to fit and to define the problem as one calling for solutions they
have ready" (p. 235). Tuchman called this trait wooden-headedness,
and commented that for Philip II of Spain "no experience of the failure
of his policy could shake his belief in its essential excellence"
Neustadt and May provided several remedies for this malaise. My
condition number seven is Neustadt and May's suggestion that decision
make time lines of their own organization, of their competitors'
and of the current situation. They recommend leaving nothing of note
and weaving into it the details of personal and organizational history
and May: 238).
To balance this literal mapping of the history of the people and issues
before the group, they suggest making deliberate use of analogies: that
is, making a worksheet which lists possible historical analogies to
is perceived as the current challenge, and then note where the analogy
likenesses-and also note the differences-to the current problem (p.
A spontaneous example of this from Robert Kennedy avoided a pre-emptive
strike during Cuban Missile Crisis: he called a surprise attack on Cuba
a "Pearl Harbor in reverse" (emphasis added, Janis, 1972: 157).
A ninth anticipatory condition will also be taken from Neustadt and
decision makers need to think through their assumptions about cause and
effect. For example, when deliberating on whether to approve the Bay of
Pigs invasion, Kennedy or his aides, needed only to have written on a
the completion to this sentence: "For the objective of bringing Castro
down, a landing at the Bay of Pigs is the best option because" Even
if they had sidestepped basic beliefs ("truths"), they would have
encountered key "if-then" presumptions. Those could have been tested-or
discarded-on sight (p. 238). Janis points out, with Arthur Schlesinger,
that some of their assumptions about the military operations might have
been challenged by simply looking at a map of Cuba after the plan was
from a landing at Trinidad to a landing at the Bay of Pigs:
Schlesinger acknowledges that he and the others attending
White House meetings simply overlooked the geography of Cuba: "I don't
think we fully realized that the Escambray Mountains lay 80 miles from
Bay of Pigs, across a hopeless tangle of swamps and jungle." This
might have been corrected if someone in the advisory group had taken
trouble to look a map of Cuba (1972: 29).
My tenth, and last, anticipatory condition is deciding before acting
and when one will want to voluntary stop the activity. This is to be
for every option under discussion. In escalating situations, where
possibilities and disregarded dangers lurk at every turn, a
as to when to stop can prevent great loss (Of Auctions, 1989: Staw,
Of course, decision makers must always seriously consider doing
But action not required now may be required later. This means setting
a monitoring system for detecting the needed information. (see Neustadt
and May, p. 238). To summarize my ten anticipatory conditions
1. Host on-going discussions about the moral and ethical
of the organization.
Of course, these are just suggestions. There exists no royal road. As
and May put it after discussing their time-line:
2. Create a tradition of impartial leadership.
3. Create a tradition of methodical procedures.
4. Keep the estimation of the group limited and underestimated. Stay
5. Practice tolerance for ambiguity as the group struggles to make
of all of the available information. Available information includes the
feelings, hunches, and metaphorical reasoning of members of the group.
6. Continually strive to see the situation in new ways in order to
7. Make a time line of the history of the group, of any opposing
and of the situation. Weave in personal details.
8. Make deliberate use of analogies by listing them and how they are
different-to the current situation.
9. Probe thinking for cultural, personal, and institutional assumptions
about cause and effect.
10. Discuss for every suggested decision option how the group would
to voluntarily stop.
This bring us to the absolute frontier of our
and experiments up to now. We have no more to offer than a general
a cast of mind, an outlook, not a method (p. 237).
Despite the positive tone of my recommendations, I could add many more.
This means to me that the question of knowing how and when to stop
an open one. If I can assert certainty about anything I have learned on
this topic, it is that all proposals must be put forward as provisional
and subject to later, or better, periodic review and revisions. Public
about decisions and large-scale efforts may need to always include
of the provisionalness of our planning, and specifically point out the
of new data or changes in circumstances which would trip a major
I also have learned that large-scale changes involves the changing of a
lot of minds, so continuous and open dialogue and evaluation of both
criteria and data of performance will pay dividends later.
Knowing how and when to stop will be different for every specific
One map cannot be drawn for how to transverse this territory, for each
has different players, obstacles, histories, and anticipated futures.
as Kenneth Arrow points out:
There are moments in history when we simply must act, fully
knowing our ignorance of possible consequences, but to retain our full
we must sustain the burden of action without certitude, we must always
open the possibility of recognizing past errors and changing course (p.
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1 Comparing this version with the 1945 original, shows that a
category has been deleted: "Our third responsbility is to our
Our executives must be persons of talent, education, experience, and
They must be persons of common sense and full understanding" (Collins
and Porras, 1994: 58). I have not seen any references to why it was
2 Note that without this preparation and deep organizational
of its ideology, Johnson & Johnson might have reacted as
did to a problem of Excedrin being tampered with in the Denver area:
recalled tablets only in Colorado and did not alert the public.
and Porras: 81)