The Gilligan Dilemma

This in class activity would be a great one to discuss how we jump to conclusions, how ambiguous terms impact our decision making, and other influences that can derail critical thinking. This is a great exercise to conduct in business courses or general education (critical thinking) courses.

Set Up:

  1. Break up your class into groups of at least 3-4 people.
  2. Hand each person a copy of this document: Gilligan Dilemma

Sequence of Events/Conversation:

  1. Ask them to read the scenario and then start discussing how they will approach this situation.
  2. After about 10 minutes of conversation, explain how ambiguous terms can impact our thinking. Ask them to identify “ambiguous” words or phrases in the scenario. They will start to pick them out (things like “about a mile”, “physically ok”, “vegetation” – have them talk about why these terms can lead us to assume certain things about the scenario. A good example is that vegetation may more may not be something that a person can actually eat. Plus, compared to your island, the fact that you may not have a lot of vegetation is because you are actually standing on concrete in a parking lot (because “beach” of  small island does not mean that you are on an uninhabited island). Ambiguous terms cause our brains to “fill in” information based on various factors.
  3. This can then lead you to talk about ONE word that sends your thinking into a certain direction. Once your thinking goes down one path, thinking “outside of that box” can be IMPOSSIBLE. The word you are looking for is “Gilligan”. Anyone familiar with the TV show knows that the group is stranded, and thus, your thinking is framed in that box.
  4. Another great thing that can happen is if you have any pilots on the team, employees or Lockheed Martin or Boeing, or any military trained people in the groups. What happens is they are considered the “experts” and people stop thinking on their own – they often abdicate their own authority and defer to the experts to figure out the problem.
  5. And finally, after some discussion, the groups may then see there really is, potentially, NO problem at all to solve.

Students often start to see that thinking outside of the box and identifying assumptions is a lot of work!