How Constructive Conflict Stirs Innovation

If you visited a Disney park as a child or took your younger children or grandchildren there, you have probably experienced the It’s a Small World attraction. At one time there was a version of the animatronic ride at every Disney park in the world. The famous song, by the same title, is said to have been played over 50 million times, beating out any single from Bruno Mars to the Beatles.

The song was the first major hit, if you could call it that, by two brothers, Robert and Richard Sherman. They would go on to have Robert craft the lyrics and Richard compose the music, for such musical film classics as Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book and many others.

Interestingly, the brothers couldn’t have been more different. Robert was described as having the “slow precision of a brooding poet,” while his brother spontaneously combusted his buoyant melodies. Eventually the clash between the two personalities ended the collaboration.

This same tension existed between one of the most famous and playful, NBA big men, Shaquille O’Neal and the fast, yet cerebral Koby Bryant. It took the coaching genius of Phil Jackson to blend their skills and their personalities into three championships (adding to the five Jackson won in Chicago).

Door #1, #2 or #3

To have innovative teamwork, you must have what could only be described as “constructive conflict,” not some vanilla mix of personalities. A constructive conflict approach doesn’t allow discussions to become personal, everything is on the table, with everyone participating, without a prescribed outcome. Aristotle described this quality as and “educated mind,” saying, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

The alternative is a conflict avoidance strategy, where candor is discouraged, because certain people may get offended. Then you have, as one writer put it, “the meeting before the meeting, the meeting after the meeting, but no meeting at the meeting.”

The other equally pointless approach is “destructive conflict.” We have all been there, where everything is personal and emotional. Instead of listening, the goal is to win the point or bully others into reluctant agreement.

To have a Sustainovation
Culture You Must:

1. Be vulnerable and have the freedom to ask
stupid questions.
Like venture investment, where you put money into 10 companies, because one will produce a payday. Maybe only one question in 10 sparks innovation, but if you do not ask, you will not get the answers.

2. Be comfortable enough to challenge others and confident enough to accept feedback.
Great leaders are able to challenge and be challenged. When it is a one-way street, the insecurity becomes obvious.

3. Encourage a hungry determined approach
to work;
hungry people look for solutions and different approaches, satisfied people do not. Remember what Edison said about genius being one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. Malcom Gladwell, in his book Outliers, confirmed that the inventor was spot on.

4. Make a clear plan for where you want to go and develop a sound strategy about how to get there. True innovators are as interested in the science of innovation, as they are in the art. They insist on developing methodologies in order to make the innovative process replicable.

5. Continue to experiment relentlessly. There is no definitive explanation for why creative genius, from
F. Scott Fitzgerald to Albert Einstein, seems to hit a wall. But those who continue to experiment are the only ones that make the discoveries.