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Is Social Media Killing the Strategic Thinker?

By: and :: Published: September 16, 2014

The rise of social media has, at least in theory, helped to “shrink” the world, making it easier than ever to share ideas, thoughts and opinions with people – sometimes even virtual strangers – across the world or across the street. In reality, though, social media often has a negative effect on strategic, outside in, thinking. That’s because instead of engaging with people who have diverse opinions, too often we end up listening to those who share our entrenched beliefs, thereby confirming our views in a “self-reinforcing eco chamber.”  

While “groupthink” is not new, the phenomenon as it relates to social media was confirmed in a recent study by the Pew Research Center and Rutgers University. Researchers explore what they call the “spiral of silence” — the tendency of people to avoid voicing views they believe are not shared by their friends or followers. This is further exacerbated by personalized algorithms, used by Google and Facebook, for example, that tailor the content users see to their tastes and beliefs, filtering out opposing views that they may not agree with. Central to our view of strategic thinking, the researchers also found that those who use social media regularly are more reluctant to express dissenting views in the offline world.

We know critical thinking separates truly strategic and innovative leaders from the rest. This includes honestly entertaining other views, and taking a hard look at one’s own beliefs and assumptions. The findings by Pew and Rutgers underscore the growing need for independent, strategic thinkers to combat the “spiral of silence” being proliferated by social media. So how can you sharpen your strategic thinking skills when the tendency is to follow the pack? Here are three tips:

  1. Broaden Your Information Sources

It may sound simple, but simply broadening the information sources that you surround yourself with can go a long way. Instead of engaging with the same people, watching the same news programs and reading the same publications every day, change up your sources on a regular basis. You might even consider putting your Internet browsers on “private” mode so the content that is delivered to you is not affected by your browsing history. Deliberately seeking out a variety of viewpoints, or “opening the window,” is the first step in broadening your perspective.

  1. Be Open to Different Perspectives

Research has shown that even when people hear other viewpoints, they can be unreceptive if they already have entrenched views of their own. This means that beyond just seeking out diverse perspectives, you must be willing to take a hard look in the mirror. While the natural tendency is to dig your heels deeper into your own viewpoint when faced with opposition, make a conscious effort to be open to different perspectives. Try playing “devil’s advocate” with yourself to truly appreciate where other perspectives are coming from, and learn to at least appreciate other viewpoints. Even if you ultimately decide to re-adopt your own perspective, at least it will be more multifaceted and deepened by the awareness and appreciation of others. 

  1. Create an Environment of Open Dialogue

If you achieve a more multifaceted perspective on issues, share this perspective with others to raise your strategic aptitude. If you see one-way groupthink dialogue happening, don’t just sit back and watch. Point it out and participate to add dimension to the conversation. Strategic thinkers who voice the concerns potentially felt by others can get the ball rolling to create a richer dialogue.

The Pew/Rutgers study is an important reminder of our human nature to seek approval from others – a habit that is being magnified by social media. But true strategic thinkers step outside their comfort zones, provoke meaningful dialogue to enrich their own views and the viewpoints of others, and take proactive roles to end the vicious cycle of groupthink.

You can learn more about strategic thinking, groupthink and how to challenge the status quo in a new book to be released in December 2014 by DSI’s Steve Krupp & Paul Schoemaker, “Winning the Long Game: How Strategic Leaders Shape The Future.”




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