Abilene Paradox

Sounds Good To Me

The “Abilene Paradox” is a phrase that should at least stir some cobwebs if, like me, you ever went to business school or attended leadership trainings since the mid-1970’s. It is best pondered over a cold beer, I think. The anecdote behind the Abilene Paradox goes something like this:

On a hot afternoon visiting in Coleman, Texas, a family is comfortably playing dominoes on a porch, until the father-in-law suggests that they take a [50-mile (80-km)] trip to Abilene for dinner. The wife says, “Sounds like a great idea.” The husband, despite having reservations because the drive is long and hot, thinks that his preferences must be out-of-step with the group and says, “Sounds good to me. I just hope your mother wants to go.” The mother-in-law then says, “Of course I want to go. I haven’t been to Abilene in a long time.”

The drive is hot, dusty, and long. When they arrive at the cafeteria, the food is as bad as the drive. They arrive back home four hours later, exhausted.

One of them dishonestly says, “It was a great trip, wasn’t it?” The mother-in-law says that, actually, she would rather have stayed home, but went along since the other three were so enthusiastic. The husband says, “I wasn’t delighted to be doing what we were doing. I only went to satisfy the rest of you.” The wife says, “I just went along to keep you happy. I would have had to be crazy to want to go out in the heat like that.” The father-in-law then says that he only suggested it because he thought the others might be bored.

The group sits back, perplexed that they together decided to take a trip which none of them wanted. They each would have preferred to sit comfortably, but did not admit to it when they still had time to enjoy the afternoon.

from The Abilene Paradox: The Management of Agreement by Jerry B. Harvey

My visit to Abilene started on a phone call with an old friend who lives about as many hundreds of miles east of Abilene as I live west of the Texas town. “Want to get together for a weekend in Abilene?” asked my friend. “I dunno” I replied. “I’ve never thought of going there before, but I guess it sounds good to me.” So we put it on the calendar and found ourselves walking together on a wide city street in Abilene without a car in sight as far as we could see in either direction. The sun was blazing and there wasn’t a trace of any other human presence as far as we could see, either. A sidewalk appeared in fits and starts, but it was easier to walk on the street – my friend, who is a Texan, told me that spotty infrastructure is one of the by-products of tax-free Texas.

It came to me then. Were we living some kind of real-world Abilene Paradox? Was our collective decision to come to Abilene a poor decision due to some flaw in our decision process? Similar to the idea of groupthink, the Abilene Paradox presents the idea that managing agreement can be just as troublesome as managing disagreement when the group making the decision doesn’t function very well. Wait — how many beers had I imbibed before I got on that phone call?

Abilene location in Texas
Abilene center

Abilene, TX is a city of about 125,000 that sits right about in the middle of Texas. There is an Air Force base, several colleges, and what looks like a significant medical community that I imagine anchor the local economy. The place started as a cattle shipping center at a railway terminal at the end of the Chisum Trail. Pertinent to our purposes, the downtown is home to multiple small breweries that are OK to walk between.

The slickest of them is Grain Theory Brewery, a modern facility on the second floor of a building on a prominent corner in the center. Grain Theory is purposed as a coffeehouse on weekday and Saturday mornings and there is a lunch/dinner time kitchen. The range of beers seemed pretty typical for small breweries these days. Good beers in a pleasant setting. Sockdolager Brewing Company is a few blocks away, across the railroad tracks in what is called the Soda District. It is a big, rangy property that looks like events may be a big part of the program. Soda turns out to be an old-time acronym for “South Downtown Abilene.” Sockdolager features an eclectic line-up and their sampler provides four generous pours in a unique, mesquite stand.

Pappy Slokum Brewing Company is the longest running of the local breweries and is housed in an old industrial property on a fairly ugly street on the edge of the downtown. It is walkable, but not the most pleasant walking you will experience. The no frills taproom is only open on Saturdays but I understand that some of their beer can be found on draft at Cypress Street Station if you aren’t in town when they are open. Pappy Slokum was an old-school local moonshiner who mellowed out and became a beer brewer in his later years. This brewery is said to be owned by local cops (unverified) so should be a safe place for sure. The range of beers is straightforward and features one with “douchebag” in its name.

A short drive from Abilene took us to Woody’s Museum in Cross Plains, TX. Woody’s is a beautifully put-together private museum featuring an immaculately restored classic auto collection on the main floor paired with an extensive collection of baseball memorabilia upstairs. The museum is free to visit and was uncrowded. It also made a good stop on a loop driving trip including SunnHaus Brewing Project southeast of Abilene. SunnHaus proved to be a friendly place to talk beer and brewing with proprietor Sam Pugh. Sunnhaus is a very small brewery and it was clear that Sam has a lot of fun with working to perfect his craft.

In the end, Abilene was an enjoyable weekend trip — low key, but a chance to relax and get together with an old friend over some fine beers. We’ve been on the phone again since, and neither of us questioned the decision to go to Abilene.

Read more about berry adventures in Texas here


2 responses to “Abilene Paradox”

  1. Staci Avatar

    I love Abilene. I chose to leave the East coast to raise my 2 kids there. I have no regrets! They received a top notch education fed from the 3 Universities in The town. Couple that with a laid back, small town family vibe and you have the makings of a very cool, rare childhood. My kids loved it. We have since moved to Oregon and will always cherish our time spent there.

  2. thebeerwanderer Avatar

    Sounds a little like you want to go to Rosenheim but without the blazing heat. Cold beer never tastes as good as on a hot day.

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