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17 Sep 2012

Creative Innovation (Pt 7): Conflict

This entry is part 7 of 18 in the series Creative Innovation

While we’ve discussed the benefit of dissenters and disruptive personalities with respective to creativity and innovation, I’ve implied conflict but have not addressed it directly. Conflict does promote them too.

We don’t need to have dissenting or disruptive personalities in order to bring about conflict. The challenge is that most group and corporate settings usually require a certain harmony to exist. For example, Communist China’s “Harmony” movement is seen by many as a rationale for minimizing and eliminating some of its more diverse elements.

More tactically, Jonah Lehrer in “Groupthink – The Brainstorming Myth” (The New Yorker, January 30, 2012 edition) references Charlan Nemeth’s work of the University of California at Berkeley in which the rule of “do not criticize” in brainstorming actually impedes creativity rather than encourage it. Nemeth’s and Matthew Feinberg’s paper, “The ‘Rules’ of Brainstorming: An Impediment to Creativity?” elaborates on this point. Moreover, Lehrer cites Nemeth saying:

Our findings show that debate and criticism do not inhibit ideas but, rather, stimulate them relative to every other condition.

As an example, free association in which we associate an idea from one field to another one is a very powerful problem solving methodology; however, Lehrer writes, “A long-standing problem with free association is that people aren’t very good at it.” Conflict is a way of encouraging, almost forcing, others to see other perspectives which in fact does foster creativity.

In many cultures though, conflict represents something gone awry. Thus, when we promote creativity and innovation, we must learn to become comfortable with it. Yes, it can get out of hand, but that is why it requires advanced managerial skills to keep a diverse, innovative workforce moving forward without self-destructing.

There are tradeoffs with conflict, but the alternative is staleness and eventual obsolescence.


Series Navigation<< Creative Innovation (Pt 6): People MixCreative Innovation (Pt 8): Guidelines over Rules >>

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