Criticism is innovation’s friend

by | Aug 19, 2013

Stories about challenging the person in charge are a little scarce on the ground. Stories about leaders asking to be challenged are even rarer. A prime example could be Alfred P. Sloan of General Motors. At an executive meeting, Sloan asked if all members present had reached agreement with a decision. One by one, each executive said they agreed with his decision. Sloan then said the meeting would be postponed to give everyone time to disagree to truly see what the decision was about.

Criticism was what Sloan was asking for, and sometimes criticism allows us to work hard in order to reach a better result.

Conflict can reveal that different viewpoints are being considered. A group that agrees on everything all the time may mean they are out of ideas, or prefer agreement to getting a good result.

criticism

In a study cited by the Harvard Business Review blog, a group was given the task of coming up with ideas to reduce traffic congestion in San Francisco. The group was split into three teams: control, brainstorm and debate. The control group was given no further instructions. The brainstorm team was told to report back with every idea, with no criticism of any. The debate team was asked to come up with ideas, and discuss each option and bring back the best.

Results showed that the debate team delivered 25 per cent more ideas than the other groups in the same amount of time. Teams that harness conflict generate more ideas than those that focus on cohesion. According to the researchers, “Our findings show that debate and criticism do not inhibit ideas but, rather, stimulate them relative to every other condition.”

The Catholic Church used to formally draft a ‘Devil’s Advocate’ to provide reasons as to why a potential candidate should not be canonised as a saint. From 1857 until the role was abolished in 1983, 98 individuals were named saints. From 1983 to today, 500 people have been declared saints.

Another method of providing constructive criticism comes from animation giant Pixar. The studio uses a method called “plussing”, where someone must offer a way to improve the work when making a criticism. This allows Pixar to benefit from criticism without adding negativity in the work space.

Jeffrey Tobias

About Jeffrey Tobias

Dr Tobias is an accomplished innovation consultant and entrepreneurship strategist, drawing expertise from the academic, entrepreneurial and corporate worlds. Jeffrey’s commercial and business experience is particularly focussed on lean startup, design thinking and leadership. Prior to The Strategy Group, Jeffrey was Cisco’s Global Lead for Innovation in the Internet Business Solutions Group helping Fortune Global 500 companies improve customer experience and grow revenue by transforming how they do business.
Jeffrey is a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship teaching MBA students at the Australian Graduate School of Business at the University of New South Wales. An active angel investor, Jeffrey is on the board of various well-known startups.

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Managing Director, The Strategy Group

Dr Tobias is an accomplished innovation consultant and entrepreneurship strategist, drawing expertise from the academic, entrepreneurial and corporate worlds. Jeffrey’s commercial and business experience is particularly focussed on lean startup, design thinking and leadership. Prior to The Strategy Group, Jeffrey was Cisco’s Global Lead for Innovation in the Internet Business Solutions Group helping Fortune Global 500 companies improve customer experience and grow revenue by transforming how they do business.
Jeffrey is a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship teaching MBA students at the Australian Graduate School of Business at the University of New South Wales. An active angel investor, Jeffrey is on the board of various well known startups. Jeffrey’s corporate background includes leading global innovation strategy at Cisco, working with large corporates such as Adobe, Westpac, Telstra, Woolworths, and Perpetual.

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