Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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William H. Whyte Jr.: How the creator of 'groupthink' was forgotten, and why it matters

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posted on 2021-12-09, 06:09 authored by Pol, Oliver

This thesis examines the presentation of management theories in textbooks, focusing on groupthink as an indicative case. The groupthink theory warns that positive consensus leads to the exclusion of other ideas, with potentially disastrous results. It is credited to the psychologist Irving Janis, but William H. Whyte Jr. used the phrase groupthink in 1952, nineteen years before Janis’ first usage. I ask how this happened - why do most textbooks credit Janis if he did not create the term? To answer this, the study takes a critical view of management’s dissemination of knowledge. A critical study acknowledges that all knowledge is subjective, and no interpretation can precisely represent the past. The primary method was the collection historical data primarily composed of textbooks, academic studies, and journal articles. This data represents the primary work of Whyte and Janis regarding groupthink, and their representation elsewhere. This allows for the construction of a ‘counter-history’ to the accepted version of history where Janis is groupthink’s creator. My findings demonstrate a clear shift within management history, discovering early evidence of Whyte’s groupthink being embraced by prominent writers, followed by a gradual marginalisation of Whyte’s contribution. This was due in part to Janis’ sudden popularity but it is evident that management studies deliberately moved away from questions of conformity asked by Whyte and peers in the 1950s. I also found that Whyte himself moved away from the groupthink terminology, rebadging the same concept as ‘the organization man’. These findings contribute a new case study to the field of management literature calling for the importance of directly embracing history. It also makes a case for textbooks as a study’s primary form of data. Future research can further explore the extent of the continued relevance of William H. Whyte’s ideas in a modern context.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Master of Commerce

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Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



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Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Management : Te Kura Whakahaere


Bridgman, Todd