When Dumb Things Happen to Smart People

Posted on: October 26th, 2011 by Hayim Herring

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Did you ever finish a board or committee meeting that left you asking, “How could such a smart group of people make such a dumb group decision?” Pastor Landon Whitsitt explores this question in his book, Open Source Church. Drawing on the work of author James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds, Whitsitt writes about diversity as one of the essential conditions needed for smart group decision-making at the church board and committee level. The same applies equally to synagogues. Yet despite sincere intentions, our committees and boards are often far too homogeneous to meet that condition.

True, organizations increasingly try to consider criteria including gender, ethnicity, income, sexual orientation and age when creating committees or adding board members. But if you really want to think about the range of criteria for diversity, look at the diagram that opens by clicking on this link.

What’s the benefit to boards of increasing their diversity? A more diverse board or committee has a greater chance at making better decisions because decisions take into account multiple and even sometimes contradictory perspectives. Diversity generates more creativity in problem solving. And, it can prevent organizations from being blindsided by an issue.

So the next time you find yourself asking the question, “How could such a smart group of people make such a dumb group decision?” look at the composition of the group. In all likelihood, the individuals in the group are already bright, accomplished and caring people. But by increasing the group’s diversity, you will find yourself smiling and saying, “Such a smart group of people and such a wise decision!”


Rabbi Hayim Herring

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