We were in New York City a while back on a family trip. The line for the Museum of Natural History is over 100 deep and barely moving. We finally get inside, and it was one of those maze-like, Disney-esque queues. 

My kids wander off to the gift shop, and I am waiting with my wife. Tick Tock, Tick Tock… For those who know me, I have less patience than the average infant. 

I hop out of the glacially moving line, thinking there is no way we are getting into the museum. Notice a few computerized kiosks like at the airport. My first thought is they must not be working because no one is using them. 


After 10 minutes of mulling (pun intended) it over, I decided to let my curiosity get the best of me. Touched the screen, and the logo appears. I look around, waiting for Paul Blart Mall Cop in a security uniform to escort me and my family off the premises. 

No one notices me. Figure, might as well continue. Better to ask forgiveness than permission has always been my mantra. I begin the process of buying passes, put in my credit card, and out spit the tickets. Must be what it feels like to hit the slots in Vegas. 

Wave my wife out of line. She looks at me like I have lost my mind. My wife is a rule follower. I flashed the tickets at her, and this immense look of pride crosses her face. For once, my impatience and irritating curiosity paid off. 

Oddly enough, even after walking away (and telling a couple of families) there was still no sprint for the machines. 

Why did all this happen? 

The Abilene Paradox. 

Dr. Jerry Harvey is a Management wizard and wrote an article in 1974 describing a social phenomenon regarding conformity. He found that in certain situations, people will keep quiet or be agreeable to a decision even though that is not what they want. No one wants to be the person who “ruins” it for everyone else. Meanwhile, they were all feeling the same way internally.

The Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle accidents were also considered to have fallen due to the Abilene Paradox. Apparently, multiple engineers were concerned with the Space Shuttles before launch and did not say anything. Not sure how to recover from that feeling. With all the time and money put into it, I can understand why they were hesitant. Still, you would think one of them would raise their eyebrows at one of their counterparts.

In the recruiting world, this happens as well. 

There are times that a topic does not get raised because neither of the three sides (recruiter, interviewer, and interviewee) wants to slow down the love train. Everyone is enjoying the process. It is the old joke. Guy jumps off a building. Halfway down, someone opens a window and asks, “how is it going?”. He responds, “So far, so good”. I’ll be here all night, folks…

Now, usually, the recruiter has the most information as they are the conduit between the company and the individual. Sometimes, though, the hiring executive is having concerns, or the person interviewing is hesitant about an item. My experience over 20 years has been this – areas of doubt never get smaller if not discussed. They only grow. Avoidance by any of the three is a recipe for disaster.

Much of the challenge in this scenario is based on fear. No one likes to take a chance on embarrassment. It is a rather powerful motivator. I get it. You’ve got to say it anyhow. As more time passes, it becomes the focal point of that person’s thought process distracting them from the positive elements of their situation.

It takes a force of will to yell “STOP!” in these situations. As soon as you do, the funny thing is everyone exhales. They are all thinking the same thing. They only needed someone to say it. 

Plenty of times, it turns out that it was a simple, easily addressed point. Everyone involved will appreciate you speaking up. Your instincts are generally correct. Trust yourself and trust the people with you. All want the same thing. 

A successful landing.