Deep Survival with Laurence Gonzales Mob Mentality: The Failures of Groupness


Text by Contributing Editor Laurence Gonzales, author of the books Everyday Survival and Deep Survival

Illustration by David Plunkert

The power of groupness is not to be underestimated. It has been the downfall of organizations, blinding them to evidence that was there for everyone to see.

In the 1930s, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P) was the most popular grocery chain in the United States, with nearly 16,000 stores. Its strategy was to focus on a single need: cheap groceries. After all, the Depression was on. A&P introduced self-service, no-frills,
cash-and-carry food with no credit, no deliveries, and no premiums.

By the end of World War II it was one of the biggest companies in the world. Then something strange happened: Leftover production capacity from the war created new industries. In that booming economy, people wanted more than cheap, plentiful groceries. They wanted more choices, more convenience, exotic foods, and new products almost weekly. They wanted bright lights, flashy decor, loud music, and even a pharmacy.

Ralph Burger, who ran A&P, dedicated himself to carrying on the company tradition, regardless of evidence that it was a doomed strategy.

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