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“Dis” It – Why Ideas Emerge from DISagreement

By Shlomo Maital

       

   Wharton School Professor Adam Grant writes often and well in the New York Times. In his Op-Ed piece on Nov. 9, “Kids, would you please start fighting?”, he makes an interesting point — Creativity often does not come from agreement. It often comes from disharmony, disagreement, dispute, argument and quarreling.

     Much of our lives is spent trying hard to maintain harmony, serenity, peace and calm. But Grant notes that “groupthink” is a major enemy of creativity, and groupthink emerges from forced consensus, when groups take the easiest direction, the lowest common denominator, to maintain harmony and agreement.

       “For our society to remain free and open, our kids need to learn the value of open disagreement,” he observes.

       Empirically Grant notes that “highly creative adults grow up in families full of tension…real disagreements.”   For instance, the Wright brothers, who flew the first airplane, came from such a family. Their father was a preacher who clashed with everybody, especially his boys’ school authorities. Orville and Wilbur Wright quarreled for weeks over the design of their propeller.

         I confess that a cardinal rule of team-based ideation is “withhold criticism”. Let ideas be born. And grow a bit. This is just temporary. At some stage, you do need to have a vigorous argument about which idea to adopt, or how to merge them. At this stage, disagreement is vital.

         Let’s be clear, there is a right and a wrong way to disagree. The wrong way to disagree is what is happening today in political debate, in the US, Israel and worldwide. This is a dialogue of the deaf. Conservatives watch Fox News. Liberals watch MSNBC. Nobody listens to anyone else, nobody tries to engage in constructive debate. Democrats and Republicans revile each other, and in general refrain from bipartisan constructive dialogue.

       The right way to disagree?   Start by listening.   Really listen to other views. Try hard to understand them. Before you frame your responses, listen to others. Stick to your guns and state your views with passion, but always, always question yourself as you question others. Critical thinking applies to your own thinking as well as to the views of others.

         Grant quotes research by a psychologist, Robert Albert, who finds that among children aged 5-7, creativity flourishes in families that are “tense but secure”. Kids whose parents argued constructively felt more emotionally safe, and showed greater empathy and concern for others. So, conclusion: “Instead of trying to prevent arguments, we should be modelling courteous conflict and teaching kids how to have healthy disagreements.”

   Grant’s four rules:

  • frame it as a debate, rather than a conflict;
  • argue as if you’re right, but listen as if you’re wrong;
  • make the most respectful interpretation of the other person’s perspective;
  • acknowledge where you agree with your critiics and what you’ve learned from them.
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Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
July 2019
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