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  • Chris Donohoe

Let’s Have a Fight (for Innovation’s Sake)

Updated: Nov 29, 2017

Disagreement and conflict are essential to challenging the status quo and spurring innovation. As a consultant, pitching conflict as a service is a tough sell – even to the most progressive, forward-thinking clients – but that won’t stop me from trying. Yes, I’m asking you to have a fight with me and with your colleagues (for innovation’s sake). With that in mind, here are a few things that organizations should know when it comes to embracing the value of conflict to create a culture of innovation:

Discomfort Breeds Creativity

Artists will often tell you that their best work was produced during times of discomfort or trauma. Unfortunately, this truth doesn’t bode well for Corporate America – the keeper of complacency – where flagging an issue or creating discomfort at work can be a career-limiting move. Most decision makers don’t like it when you flag issues within the organization because they’re either unsure how to fix it or afraid that it will reflect poorly on them. The natural inclination is to avoid or bury issues as quickly as possible, yet this impulse is the opposite of productive. In fact, it means death to innovation and creativity. Rather than rewarding managers who maintain compliant teams, we encourage clients to get clear on their commitment to honest feedback and to embrace the discomfort that sometimes comes from disagreement.

Diversity is a Thing You Can Count On

Diversity of thought and perspective is helpful for spurring innovation. This often plays out along lines of difference including race, class, gender, religion, sexuality, disability status, veteran status, political ideology, and beyond – essentially any quality or attribute that makes someone “different” from the established organizational norm. In an increasingly diverse and integrated world, it can sometimes be hard to know how folks identify and/or how they relate to difference at work. Thus, be unwavering in your commitment to listen and seek understanding before dismissing an idea that seems bonkers at face value; it might be the seed from which your next innovation will grow.

Faced with limited time and competing demands, the last thing we usually want is a lengthy, contentious conversation with a colleague. Yet this combination of no time coupled with pressure to perform creates a breeding ground for group-think and defense of the status quo. While there’s certainly something to be said for jiving with your team and working as a cohesive unit, there’s also a treacherous zone where synergy teeters on assimilation and ideas get ditched just because they don’t fit in with established lines of thinking, or worse – because they made someone uncomfortable. It’s critical, then, that we notice and value the dissenting voice in the room, especially when that voice is coming from someone who doesn’t share the same identity markers as other folks on the team. With that in mind, we invite you to have a fight – metaphorically speaking – for innovation’s sake.