Posted in Psychology & Medicine

Abilene Paradox

On a hot afternoon visiting in Coleman, Texas, the family is comfortably playing dominoes on a porch, until the father-in-law suggests that they take a trip to Abilene (a city 53 miles north of Coleman) for dinner. The wife says, “Sounds like a great idea.” The husband, despite having reservations because the drive is long and hot, thinks that his preferences must be out-of-step with the group and says, “Sounds good to me. I just hope your mother wants to go.” The mother-in-law then says, “Of course I want to go. I haven’t been to Abilene in a long time.”

The drive is hot, dusty, and long. When they arrive at the cafeteria, the food is as bad as the drive. They arrive back home four hours later, exhausted. One of them dishonestly says, “It was a great trip, wasn’t it?” The mother-in-law says that, actually, she would rather have stayed home, but went along since the other three were so enthusiastic. The husband says, “I wasn’t delighted to be doing what we were doing. I only went to satisfy the rest of you.” The wife says, “I just went along to keep you happy. I would have had to be crazy to want to go out in the heat like that.” The father-in-law then says that he only suggested it because he thought the others might be bored.

The group sits back, perplexed that they together decided to take a trip which none of them wanted. They each would have preferred to sit comfortably, but did not admit to it when they still had time to enjoy the afternoon.

This anecdote was written by management expert Jerry B. Harvey to elucidate a paradox found in human nature, where a group of people collectively decide on a course of action that is against the best wishes of any individual in the group. Essentially, the group agrees to do something that would not benefit any one, or the group as a whole. This is the Abilene paradox, colloquially known to us through the idiom: “do not rock the boat”.

As seen in the anecdote, there is a breakdown of communication where each member assumes that the majority of the group will decide to follow the action, pushing them towards conformity. There is a mutual mistaken belief that everyone wants the action when no one does, leading to no one raising objections. This is a type of phenomenon called groupthink (coined by George Orwell in his dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four), where people do not present alternatives or objections, or even voicing their opinions simply because they believe that will ruin the harmony of the group. They are also under peer-pressure, believing that by being the one voice against the unanimous decision they will become ostracised.

The Abilene paradox explains why poor decisions are made by businesses, especially in committees. Because no one objects to a bad idea (falsely believing that that is what the group wants), even bad ideas are accepted unanimously. This is particularly dangerous when combined with cognitive dissonance, where the group will believe that they chose that decision because it was rational and logical. To prevent this paradox from destroying individual creativity in the group, one should always ask other members if they actually agree with the decision or are merely the victims of groupthink.

Posted in Science & Nature

Parkinson’s Law

Parkinson’s Law states that the bigger a company grows, the more inefficient workers it will hire while paying out more wages. The reason for this is simple: those in power like to stay in power, and the best way to ensure this is to eliminate competition.

Hiring skilled workers brings upon the chance of a strong competitor that can over throw the bureaucrats, which is undesirable. Therefore, by hiring useless people, the bureaucrats are able to keep their seat of power.


(from The Encyclopaedia of Relative and Absolute Knowledge by Bernard Werber)

Posted in Life & Happiness


Making lemonade is quite easy.

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
4~6 lemons
3~4 cup cold water (to dilute)

Firstly, dissolve the sugar in 1 cup of water to make syrup. If the sugar does not fully dissolve, warm the water a little.
While the sugar dissolves, juice the lemons until about 1 cup of lemon juice is collected.
Mix the lemon juice with the sugar syrup, then add an appropriate amount of water. The key point is to get the ratio just right to balance the sweetness and sourness.
Then, pour the mixture into a pitcher and put it in the refrigerator. Cool for 30~40 minutes. A cool summer drink can be made this easily.

In Western countries such as the USA, it is quite common to see children selling lemonade in a cup at a stand on the streets. It is quite popular as the children get to pretend running a large business while earning some pocket money.
How much profit will a business that sells a cup of lemonade at 10~50 cents (USD) make? (for convenience’s sake, NZD will be used with New Zealand prices in 2010)

If the above ingredients makes 2L of lemonade, and the cost of cups are included:
Ingredients: ($0.85 x 6) + ($1.49 x 0.5) + ($1.69 x 2) = $9.23 (lemon, sugar, cups)
One cup holds about 100ml, so 2L makes about 20 cups of lemonade. This means the cost of producing one cup of lemonade is: $9.23/20 = $0.46
Therefore, if a child wants to make any profit, he/she needs to sell the lemonade at least 50c a cup (about 38c USD). This makes a profit of 4 cents per cup, and the child earns less than $1 per pitcher of lemonade sold.