Group shift: A pain in the neck is somebody’s hero



THE prison warden told the condemned man to order whatever he wanted for his last meal. He offered several suggestions: “Lobster, Filet Mignon, Kobe Beef and Caviar?” The prisoner said: “No, thanks. I’ll just take a bowl of mushrooms.” The warden was astonished: “Why mushrooms?”

The prisoner replied with a sad face: “I’ve always been afraid to eat them.”

This story leads us to the context of risk-taking and why do many people avoid taking risks. Risk avoidance is happening everywhere, because many of us are afraid to leave our comfort zones. For instance, employees are content receiving their regular pay and perks rather than becoming entrepreneurs who can earn much more. But even if some people decide to become businessmen, many are still afraid to go beyond the established framework.

A person who opens a neighborhood laundry shop or water purifying outlet follows the same, old overbeaten business model and rely mostly on destructive competition by offering the lowest price possible even at the expense of quality, if not quantity. This is what has been known as the pan de sal (bread) mentality when people copy the same old template resulting in the bankruptcy of all related businesses, including the first mover.

Similar examples are found in the neighborhood sari-sari (small-scale convenience) stores and tricycle public transport system, if not the padyak (foot-powered mini-tricycle) or habal-habal (tandem motorcycle for public conveyance) operations that often resulted in destructive competition or debilitating injury, if not death to the owner-driver or its passengers.

Sometimes, some lucky entrepreneurs make money by having good PR with their customers, if not through addition of new customers through employee referrals or through his relatives. But more often than not, the innovative path is often ignored, simply because many are afraid to take risks.

Enter group shift—a term often used to describe the tendency of groups to take more risks than an individual acting alone. Group shift happens when members get together to take an overly risky view and stick to it in the hope of achieving a monumental or extra-ordinary accomplishment.

Group shift is the opposite of “group think,” which exists when people in a group focus more on reaching a decision than on making a good decision. This happens because of a good number of factors which include peer pressure for conformity, group isolation, if not blind following to a certain leader, among other issues.

This brings us to another story on team work: Several parts of the body tried to determine who would be the boss. The brain says—“Since I already coordinate every function of the body, I am the logical choice to be the boss.” The heart objects saying: “Without my pumping blood throughout the body, none would be able to function, so I should be the boss.”

Likewise, the eyes say in protest: “Without us, the body would not know where it is going. We should be the boss.” For this the mouth says: ‘I speak for the whole body, I should be the boss.” One by one, each member of the body gave his reason as to why he should be the boss. Finally, the neck spoke up and said that he should be the boss. “Why you?” says the brain. “Yeah, you don’t do anything to begin with,” supports the heart. “We wouldn’t miss you if you weren’t here,” adds the brain.

This made the neck very mad, and he became tense. His muscles knotted up, and he began excruciating pain. So intense was the pain that the brain couldn’t think. The eyes became blurry, and the heart had to work so hard that it became tired and began to skip a beat. After a week of this, all the parts of the body agreed that the neck could be the boss. That’s why we call it “a pain in the neck.”

Group shift is often powered by people collectively known as “pain in the neck.” Whether you like it not, it is necessary for people and organizations to gain competitive advantage. W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, co-authors of Blue Ocean Strategy (2005)—considered as a milestone in value innovation talks about “business strategies [that]must take us beyond competition.”

In fact, Kim and Mauborgne say that “high growth companies pay little attention to their rivals [but instead]they create the uncontested space.” Business and its strategies are not about cloning and looking exactly like anyone’s competitors. Therefore the best strategy is to create and develop “new uncontested space.”

That’s exactly what I’m doing in my seminar business—to organize learning events on advanced management topics that are not found elsewhere. This way, my competition becomes irrelevant, if not totally immaterial. Really, there are many opportunities if only we knew how to create a new market space regardless of its risks. As long as you can manage the risks, then it’s only a matter and some reasonable adjustments to make it happen.

That’s what I did. I took the risks many times over. I did it alone, with muffled, mild protests of my spouse. Unfortunately, I can’t call it group shift.

Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing on human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter.


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