In the Ted Talk, Dare to Disagree, with Margaret Heffernan, the concept of collaboration, conflict and disagreement is discussed. How many of us have collaborated with our co-workers, who were similar to us in personalities and skills? Collaboration with people who are similar to you will only get you so far. It may get you the next incremental product idea, but will it get you the next breakthrough product idea? How about collaboration with people who are not similar to you? Or collaboration with people who may disagree with you? Or collaboration when there may be conflict? This is when the magic of collaboration will occur. Don’t the best ideas come from discussions where everyone is not a cookie cutter personality?
Many innovation challenges are not because we are not smart or cannot come up with ideas. Is it because we are afraid of conflict and disagreements with our peers? Whether it’s the employees, middle management, or upper-management, conflict is seen as bad. We must stay in our swim lane, get our job done, and minimize the debate. People are afraid to get into arguments and conflict which they don’t know how to manage. People agree with each other just for the sake of agreeing.
In recent surveys of European and American executives, 85% of them acknowledged that they had issues that they were afraid to raise at work. They were concerned that the disagreements would become emotional and/or they would lose. When you look at this number, I wonder how many innovations and new ideas were not being generated because people are afraid to bring up issues. If people are seen as ‘boat rockers’ by raising new ideas that go against the norm, won’t ideas be stifled? Will you miss the idea that could be your next product breakthrough?
I encourage us all to allow our fellow employees to swim out of their lane once in a while. I encourage us to bring in people to our brainstorming sessions who may have different ideas and attitudes. I encourage us to actively listen to all ideas, even the crazy ones, and be open to them. I encourage us all to encourage diversity of thought and not push down those who dare to disagree. It’s only when we all become open to disagreements and conflict that innovation will occur.