Innovation is simply a useful novelty. The more unique the novelty, the more valuable the innovation is. Standardization is the opposite of innovation because it eliminates the variation required to produce this novelty. People fall into patterns of doing things the same way because it’s comfortable. To break this pattern, people and companies should seek out others who have different strengths and weaknesses.

To create innovative new products and services, companies require divergent points of view or constructive conflict. We call these worldviews. It is the positive tension created when opposing worldviews collide that produces hybrid solutions and new ways of doing things. An overemphasis on alignment and agreement stifles the ability of an organization to innovate. In my book and research, I highlight the importance of constructive conflict to produce innovation.

Here is a simple four-step framework to explain the ways different kinds of thinkers and leaders can create constructive conflict in any organization:

  1. Assemble a diversity of perspectives: The first step to innovation is identifying one’s own strengths and weaknesses. There is a free and fast online Innovation Code quiz as well as a more comprehensive Innovation Code assessment that can be purchased for a small fee. The comprehensive evaluation is the best way to assess your strengths and weaknesses because it provides guidance on how to develop your abilities as an innovator. Then, actively seek out others who have a different view — the loyal opposition.
  2. Engage in the conflict: Find the courage to voice and listen to meaningful dissent. Remain open-minded and empathetic. Most importantly, use constructive conflict to raise ideas to another level and establish a shared vision.
  3. Establish a shared goal or vision: Recognize what you seek in common and cultivate a shared vision and goals. Finding the root cause of the challenge or opportunity, and agreeing with the goal, will lead to collaboration.
  4. Construct hybrid solutions: Brainstorm a wide array of good ideas, then select the best ideas for achieving your shared vision. The aim of this is to synthesize seemingly oppositional thoughts into hybrid solutions, not to alienate your colleagues or simply compromise to alleviate the tension. Develop and implement these hybrid solutions in phases.

Companies need to create the space for innovation to break the stagnation. In general, innovative organizations are by nature uncomfortable. In fact, they do things to create positive tension. Consider how Pixar adds and subtracts key members of its development team throughout the production of a new film to create fresh ideas. The key is to establish an environmentwhere ideas are challenged, but not people. Respect is essential for these companies.

Here is a link to an interview podcast I did that talks about how to break patterns through constructive conflict.

Originally published on Quora.


  • Jeff DeGraff

    Dean of Innovation, Author and Thought Leader

    Jeff DeGraff is an advisor to Fortune 500 companies, a top innovation speaker, a business professor at the Ross School of Business, and a bestselling author. He founded the Innovatrium, an innovation consulting firm focusing on creating an innovation culture, capability, and community. He earned his nickname, the “Dean of Innovation,” while working as an executive for Domino’s Pizza in his youth, where he accelerated Domino’s growth from a regional success story to an international franchise phenomenon. He is also the author of several books on how teams innovate, his most recent being The Innovation Code: The Creative Power of Constructive Conflict.