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The Creative Power of Healthy Debate

In the 20th century, there seems to have arisen an idea that businesses function best when everyone is “on the same page” or when there is very little conflict or friction. While it is true that there is a certain level of conflict or friction that can inhibit or derail growth, a lack of conflict and friction […]

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In the 20th century, there seems to have arisen an idea that businesses function best when everyone is “on the same page” or when there is very little conflict or friction. While it is true that there is a certain level of conflict or friction that can inhibit or derail growth, a lack of conflict and friction can also be just as destructive.

Conflict and debate can be uncomfortable, which is why we often avoid it. It can also easily get out of hand which is why it is often discouraged in the workplace. The idea is that if you avoid conflict and debate in the first place, then you also avoid the messy aftermath when it grows out of control. Businesses that discourage healthy debate and diversity of thought, however, may actually do so at their own peril. The best course of action is to foster healthy, constructive debate within certain boundaries.

In the late 1940s, Alex Osborne introduced the concept of brainstorming. His brainstorming idea introduced concepts that most of us have heard of and still follow to this day, such as the idea that there are no bad ideas and that new ideas should not be criticized. The reality is, however, that there actually are bad ideas (quite a few of them actually), and often the only way to determine whether an idea is actually a good or bad one is to “attack” it. That is, to poke as many holes in it as you can and see if it still holds water. The healthy debate does not need to be disrespectful but it can still be critical.

Most new ideas are not “good” ideas to start with but they can become great ideas with proper molding and shaping. The start of that molding and shaping process is criticism. Criticism is simply the process by which we discover the holes and flaws in our theories. It doesn’t mean those holes can’t be patched and those flaws cannot be addressed but it does mean you can’t fix what you don’t even know is broken. Healthy discussion, criticism, and debate is the process by which you take mediocre ideas and turn them into game-changing ones.

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