Lifelong Learner & Reflective Practitioner

Lifelong Learner & Reflective Practitioner

Let's Transform Our Schools Into TRUE Professional Learning Communities

Let's Transform Our Schools Into TRUE Professional Learning Communities
In Your School- Do all stakeholders subscribe to the belief that EVERYONE has something to learn and EVERYONE has something to teach? This blog can help you gain insight on how to facilitate this transformative mindset with your faculty!

Jan 9, 2011

The Abilene Paradox: The Management of Agreement

I love to share this paradox with teachers when we begin working on committees. I explain to them that, during our work on the committee, I don't want us to ever "go to Abilene" on any decision. Teachers should not just agree to something because they think it's what everyone else wants. It's important to speak up when you don't support any idea or don't feel like you can implement it with fidelity.

That July afternoon in Coleman, Texas (population 5.607), was particularly hot-104 degrees according to the Walgreen’s Rexall’s thermometer. In addition, the wind was blowing fine-grained West Texas topsoil through the house. But the afternoon was still tolerable-even potentially enjoyable. A fan was stirring the air on the back porch; there was cold lemonade; and finally, there was entertainment. Dominoes. Perfect for the conditions. The game requires little more physical exertion than an occasional mumbled comment, “Shuffle ‘em,” and an unhurried movement of the arm to place the tiles in their appropriate positions on the table. All in all, it had the makings of an agreeable Sunday afternoon in Coleman. That is, until my father in law suddenly said, “Let’s get into the car and go to Abilene and have dinner at the cafeteria.”

I thought, “What, go to Abilene? Fifty-three miles? In the dust storm and heat? And in an unairconditioned 1958 Buick?”
But my wife chimed in with, “Sounds like a great idea. I’d like to go. How about you, Jerry?” since my own preferences were obviously out of step with the rest, I replied, “Sounds good to me,” and added, “I just hope your mother wants to go.”

“Of course I want to go,” said my mother-in-law. “I haven’t been to Abilene in a long time.”

So into the car and off to Abilene we went. Mt predictions were fulfilled. The heat was brutal. Perspiration had cemented a fine layer of dust to our skin by the time we arrived. The cafeteria’s food could serve as a first-rate prop in an antacid commercial.

Some four hours and 106 miles later, we returned to Coleman, hot and exhausted. We silently sat in front of the fan for a long time. Then, to be sociable and to break the silence, I dishonestly said, “It was a great trip, wasn’t it?” No one spoke.
Finally, my mother-in-law said, with some irritation, “Well to tell the truth, I really didn’t enjoy it much and would rather have stayed here. I just went along because the three of you were so enthusiastic about going. I wouldn’t have gone if you all hadn’t pressured me into it.”

I couldn’t believe it. “What do you mean ‘you all’?” I said. “Don’t put me in the ‘you all’ group. I was delighted to be doing what we were doing. I didn’t want to go. I only went to satisfy the rest of you. You’re the culprits.”
My wife looked shocked. “Don’t call me a culprit. You and daddy and Mama were the ones who wanted to go out in heat like that.”
Her father entered the conversation with one word: “Bull.” He then expanded on what was already absolutely clear: “Listen, I never wanted to go to Abilene. I just thought you might be bored. You visit so seldom. I wanted to be sure you enjoyed it. I would have preferred to play another game of dominoes and eat the leftovers in the icebox.”

After the outburst of recrimination, we all sat back in silence. Here we were, four reasonably sensible people who-of our own volition-had just taken a 106-mile trip across a godforsaken desert in furnace-like heat and a dust storm to eat unpalatable food at a hole-in-the-wall cafeteria in Abilene, when none of us had really wanted to go. To be concise, we’d done just the opposite of what we wanted to do. The whole situation simply didn’t make sense.

*Taken from: The Abilene Paradox and Other Meditations on Management; Harvey, Terry B.; Lexington Books, 1988 (reprinted by Fossey-Bass 1996)