Abilene, Dead Fish and Healthy Giraffes

The Road to Abilene (aka the Abilene paradox) is Dr. Jerry B. Harvey’s 1974 parable about a family trip to Abilene.  In that classic story about the results of group think, members of a family make a miserable trip across the hot desert in a car without air conditioning just to eat bad cafeteria food.  They could have stayed home enjoying conversation and cool drinks in the shade.


This group think paradox brings to mind a statement attributed to Malcom Muggeridge, “Only dead fish swim with the current.” The quote brings other pictures to mind and Muggeridge is right.  In hundreds of scuba dives, one has seen that it is the healthy fish who face the current, looking for food and moving around the reef.  Bigger fish find their healthy places in bigger currents.


Now create for yourself a mind picture of the mission of the Giraffe Heroes Project: to move people to stick their necks out for the common good: to do the right thing for others (my emphases).


What a contrast!


With these mind pictures formed, let’s reinforce some principles:

  • In the next meeting in which an executive says, “It would be great if…”, stop and think.
    • Your organization pays you, as it does other manager/leaders, to think.
    • Thinking is the valuable process.
    • Not valuable is taking that long hot trip to Abilene and finding only misery at its end.
  • Teachers who told you in school that if you had a question, others likely had the same question were right.
    • Ask the question(s).
    • Be the hero who sticks her neck out to focus everyone away from ‘going along to get along.’
    • Help your colleagues confirm that the idea supports strategy; that critical resources are available; that timing is good. Or, help everyone avoid misery.
  • Don’t participate in the ‘watching and hoping.’
    • Challenging ideas, asking questions and matching plans with strategy are valuable actions that focus organizational resources and lead to creative, productive solutions.
    • Helping everyone succeed and avoid misery is each leader’s opportunity and challenge.


Paraphrasing Jim Collins, going along to get along is not why your butt is in that manager/leader seat on that particular bus.  Swim healthy against the current.  Be a giraffe.