Review: The Abilene Paradox

The Abilene Paradox by Jerry Harvey is not a new book, written in 1988. It’s part of some reading I’m doing for a project. The book is about management and is a series of stories/essays.  It’s not a book I’d recommend to a first time or first level manager, but for all that it had two really interesting stories:

  • The Abilene Paradox is about, sort of, group decisions. A family is sitting on the front porch in Texas, hot, bored. Someone suggests going to Abilene some distance away for dinner and everyone opts in. When they get home after a so-so meal and a long hot drive they realize that no one had wanted to go, they just went because they thought everyone else wanted to go.
  • The other is about Captain Asoh, a pilot for Japan Airlines in 1968 who was headed for the airport in San Francisco but instead landed 2-1/2 miles out in the Bay. All lined up with the runway, smooth landing, just 2.5 miles short in the water. No injuries, the plan was salvaged. The story, perhaps true – I like to think so – is that when Captain Asoh testified about the incident his response was ‘Asoh f***ed up’. We don’t see that kind of honest and accountability often enough.

Some of the other essays are ok, at least one I had to skip over because it was comparing something to Nazi behavior. I saw the intent, but it was just over the top for me.

Still, it was worth reading just for the two points above.