…today’s secret…The Abilene Paradox

There are hundreds of ideas on how to resolve organizational conflict. But few on how you resolve organizational agreement?

Both can put you in the same hot water…

On a sweltering 104-degree Sunday afternoon four adults sat on the back porch playing dominos.

One said, “Let’s get in the car and go to Abilene and eat in the cafeteria.”
The other three agreed.

58 miles one way. 1958 Buick. No air-conditioning. Dust. Bad food. Sucked up four miserable hours.

When back on the porch one said, “Well, to be honest, I didn’t enjoy myself and would have rather stayed here.”

The other three looked at each other and agreed, including the one who suggested the idea.

What caused them to take a 106-mile trip across a godforsaken desert in furnace-like heat to eat tasteless food in a hole-in-the-wall Abilene cafeteria?

The answer is they fell into the “Abilene Paradox,” where people take actions in contradiction to what they really want to do and therefore defeat the very purpose they are trying to achieve.

Organizations that help people work and play well with others take trips to Abilene all the time. They follow the chain-of-command rather than behave sensibly. They agree to pour time and money into projects or go down rabbit holes they know won’t work.

The general organizational thinking is it’s more important to follow authority than think on one’s own.

Why? Because going along to get along releases us from any anxiety, frustration, risk, and accountability.

Organizations on their way to Abilene are losing their individual distinctiveness and experiencing group conformity pressures.

Fortunately, there’s plenty of hope. Understanding, diagnosing, and coping with the “Abilene Paradox” is well documented and cartooned. Google or YouTube it to learn more.

But, if you already know of the Paradox, ask yourself if your organization is on the way there. Hopefully not.


In Genesis, would Abraham’s commitment to sacrifice his son Isaac because God told him to do so be a biblical “Abilene Paradox?” Or, does Abe get a pass because God is, well, God?

Adolph Eichmann said he was just following Nazi orders when he mass killed the Jews. Not his fault. Does that make the “Abilene Paradox” a palatable defense mechanism?

Just thinkin’ out loud here. There seems to be a lot of “Abilene” going around these days.