Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Bus to Abilene

Sitting in the noisy, crowded and almost nauseating hospital hallway today, I found respite in an audiobook - Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Cant Stop Talking.

Among the several insightful and captivating anecdotes in the book, the following struck an instant chord with me. The Bus to Abilene is a parable about how we tend to follow the first person to speak up in a group - irrespective of whether he is right or wrong in the given context. It is imperative on us to weigh the pros and cons of the initiative and reach an accurate judgement or we risk getting on to The Bus to Abilene (i.e blindly following someone's initiative)

An excerpt from the book illustrates the anecdote (replicated here as best as I could from the audiobook):

The Bus to Abilene. Any army officer can tell you what that means. It's about a family sitting on a porch in Texas on a hot summer day and somebody says, "I am bored. Why don't we go to Abilene?" When they get to Abilene, somebody says, "You know, I didn't really want to go". And the next person says, "I didn't want to go - I thought you wanted to go" and so on.

Whenever you are in an army group and somebody says "I think we are all getting on the bus to Abilene here", that is a red flag. You can stop a conversation with it. It is a very powerful artifact of our culture.

The Bus to Abilene anecdote reveals our tendency to follow those who initiate an action - any action.

Sidenote: It is quite amusing how such interesting phrases or lines refer to the state of Texas. One such line is All hat no cattle - meaning a person who is all talk and no substance (an indirect dig at people who wear hats like cowboys but may not exactly have the experience on a ranch)


Anonymous said...

As a Texan, I've never heard the bus to Abilene anecdote, but I'll keep it in mind from now on.


M.Abdul Khadar. said...

I too was readily captivated by the anecdote "Bus to Abilene". I referred it in my blog abdulqadirbilali.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

Absolutely the best "Training Film" I ever saw in 23 years in the Army. It was actually a film of a live speaker giving a class on "decision making". The buy was great, Texas accent and all, and really pulled you in to the group decision process when they all suddenly find themselves climbing on the bus at the end of their long ranch driveway. I've told folks about this film for many years but I saw it in the early 80's so it has probably long since disappeared. Too bad, it was a gem.