Strategy. Innovation. Brand.

Clint Eastwood and the Risky Shift

Was Clint Eastwood’s performance at the Republican National Convention the result of the “risky shift” that occurs in group behavior? Eastwood’s performance has been described as “weird”, “cringe-inducing”, and “bizarre”. Not surprisingly, no one in the RNC or in Mitt Romney’s inner circle wants to take credit for it.

So, how did it happen? Last week, I wrote about the risky shift in group behavior. When lines of authority are not clear, groups can veer off track, making riskier decisions than any individual in the group would make. This especially occurs in a temporary group where it’s not always clear who the boss is or how decisions should be made. When somebody proposes an action, other members of the group may think, “Well, it’s not what I would do but she seems to know what she’s talking about, so I’ll just go along“.  Each member of the group can shift responsibility to the group itself. “Well, it wasn’t my fault. The group made the decision. I’m a team player so I just went along. ” This is why — according to the U.S. Air Force — fliers shot down behind enemy lines have a higher survival rate if they’re alone rather than in a group. A downed flier operating alone tends to make more conservative decisions that lead to more successful outcomes.

I don’t know exactly what happened at the RNC but here are two very plausible scenarios:

  • It’s Clint Eastwood fer crissakes — I’m a good speaking coach but if Clint Eastwood showed up at one of my events, I’d be at a loss for words. He’s a legend — what could I tell him? He should be coaching me, not the other way around. There’s a lesson here. Even great speakers need to understand how they can help you achieve your objectives. If you don’t tell them very precisely how they fit in, they’ll just wing it. Good luck with that.
  • I thought Joe had it under control — Advisor A thinks Advisor B has it under control. Advisor B thinks Advisor C is in charge. Advisor C thinks Advisor A is running the show. Call it circular management. Is this possible? You betcha. Especially in temporary groups with multiple lines of authority. If this is what happened, it calls into question Mitt Romney’s much vaunted management capabilities.
If you’re a manager, you need to account for the risky shift of group behavior. While you may emphasize teamwork, it’s also important to teach individuals to speak up when they see the risks mounting. Otherwise, you can make a legend look like a fool.


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