Once I read a story demonstrating how people can lure one another to do unwanted things with absolutely good intentions.

It was about a family, which enjoyed their spare time sitting around a dinner table in their house in a rural area amid summer heat. Then someone suggests driving to a city to visit something there. And everyone agrees, although nobody of them really wanted to go.

When they come back home, they feel tired and sick, their weekend completely messed up.

I totally forgot where I met this text. Does someone know it?


I believe you're thinking of this (possibly fictitious*) anecdote from the 1974 article "The Abilene Paradox: The Management of Agreement" by Jerry B. Harvey. Via Wikipedia:

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 [53 miles (85 km) north] 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 gets cited in other discussions of group decision-making so you could have heard it almost anywhere, even if you didn't read the original article. (People will sometimes say "Let's not take a trip to Abilene" to head off this sort of mistake, the way you might say "Okay, enough about the bikeshed.")

*Upon further investigation, it appears that the version I've quoted above is paraphrased from the original article. In the article, Harvey tells the story in the first person and includes more detail (the brand of thermometer on the porch, for instance) than I would expect if the story were made up to illustrate a point. Combined with the fact that he was actually from Texas, this inclines me to think that it actually happened.

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