Leadership Solutions from Read Solutions Group: Too Nice Organizations?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Too Nice Organizations?

"There's very little conflict in our company."

"This is a really nice place to work; everyone gets along."

"Whenever there are differences of opinion, they are easily resolve."

Sounds like a great place to work, doesn't it? Or does it? Can an organization be too nice?

This issue explores the question of whether creativity and innovation are founded on differences - differences of perspective, differences of opinion, and dare we say it, a bit of conflict.



The Role of Conflict in Creativity

What is creativity? MacKinnon in his book In Search of Human Effectiveness: Identifying and Developing Creativity defines five criteria:

  • novelty and originality
  • an adaptation to reality
  • capable of being produced, sustained, evaluated, elaborated, developed, and communicated to others
  • true and beautiful or "aesthetically pleasing"
  • creating "new conditions of human existence, transcending and transforming the generally accepted experience of man by introducing new principles that defy tradition and change radically man's view of the world."

Are all five criterion essential? The truly innovative organizations strive to meet all five. The rest, in order to survive and thrive within an environment of rapid, unceasing change, need to novel, original products, services and processes that both the requirements of reality, continuous development and understandability.

Rothenberg in Creativity and Madness, proposes that true creative inspiration results from unconscious anxieties within the creator. By grappling with the effort to understand the genuine meaning of an inspiration or idea, the creator resolves the conflict by gaining insight, and, perhaps, generating a product. Creativity, then, is a process that begins when one recognizes a problem, not immediately apparent, to be solved.

Conflict occurs when two or more "people have incompatible interest, goals, principles or feelings" (Capobianco, Davis, and Kraus) and further, when these points of view appear to create limitations upon one another. The differences may be express covertly or overtly, resulting in a competition,
or conflict.

In fact, Ulrich and Smallwood content that "Leadership inevitably involves conflict". Leaders are the ones called upon to take risks, decide on the close calls, and influence change. By their very nature, strong leaders recognize that some portion of their audience is unlikely to agree with them, while some are open to being convinced.

Yet many potentially strong leaders and organizations are embarrassed by conflict, and refuse to deal with it openly. Sy Landau notes that this attitude forces conflict underground, where at best it limits creativity and at works, it festers and spreads.

Innovative leaders and organization recognize that it is only in opening up to all points of view, that truly creative solutions can be found. What can you do to improve the conflict-competence of your leadership, team and organization?

  • Define the need for creativity within your organizational and strategic construct
  • Address and resolve systemic and structural issues that are not aligned with your strategy
  • Create a language and skill set that enables constructive conflict
  • Ensure a climate of trust, safety and respect for other perspectives and experiences
  • Teach people how to separate personal conflict from task conflict
So what's your thinking? Can an organization be too nice? Are the differences of perspective, differences of opinion, and dare we say it, conflict being swept buried? What new ideas, products, services and processes might be generated if the differences were brought to light by conflict-competent team?

If you'd like to learn more about how to build conflict-competent leaders and teams, please contact me.

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