A reason to encourage war for ideas

Why creativity needs tension to thrive

In his 2014 best selling book, Creativity INC, in which he unveils the inner workings of Pixar, Ed Catmull details at length the company’s dedication of encouraging a culture of candour among creative heads during the production of their movies.

In a safe from judgement space, critics of the work being produced are encouraged to speak their minds freely, albeit in a structured way, in their collective endeavour to pursue their main goal — to craft the very best animated feature films in the world.

But candour in a modern working environment is tough. People can feel personally threatened, hold dangerous grudges, strategise unnecessary revenge attacks even, if there isn’t a culture of honesty within the organisation and a clear common purpose.

At Yuppiechef we’ve always had the dream that our brand and work ultimately creates good in the world by promoting social harmony around a dinner table.

That idea is constantly spoken about and celebrated, but the route of its realisation is often quite different in the individual minds of our team.

And perhaps that is the perfect reason to avoid the trap of pursuing internal harmony at all costs and rather focus instead on harnessing team dynamics that maturely poke and pull and challenge the ideas and concepts that should ultimately achieve the higher brand purpose.

‘Opposition brings concord. Out of discord comes the finest harmony’ — Heraclitus

There is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek joke that — regularly — we all arrive at meetings with imaginary (inflatable) swords, ready to spar with each other to defend a point of view. With a very flat management structure, everyone’s sword is therefore as big and lethal as the next. But the result is that important decisions are fully explored from all points of view before democratic decisions are made on which route to take.

An excellent recent example of this was a proposed axing of an increasingly unloved web application on our site.

A casual ‘check-in’ regarding the proposal with the marketing team revealed a small opposition to the idea, which immediately resulted in a separate, dedicated debate over the issue. Views and opinions were vigorously thrown around. A vote was then conducted which resulted in a consensus being reached to keep the web app, but rather to re-look at how it was being managed and utilised.

It could easily have just ‘disappeared’ and nobody would have been the wiser, but the process of debate and the honest group analysis of the issue gifted us with a new perspective on the problem — one we would never have had if the process was any less intensive.

It takes more time to conclude meetings and things can get worryingly heated at times, but by and large the end result is a stronger, more dynamic company and a collectively clearer path towards our purpose.

‘Stable equilibrium is death’ — Henry Adams
There is always a danger that tunnel vision and blind spots can scupper even the most well intentioned plan.

The best way to avoid them is to make sure you listen to a variety of opinions from a diversity of people who are not only willing to share their opinions openly, but also to purposefully punch holes in your idealistic theories.

We love arguing, we debate fiercely, we contest ceaselessly.
We solve our differences through discussion.
We refrain from being cruel, demeaning or hurtful in disagreement.
We feel we belong.
We celebrate all the differences among us.
We are not imprisoned by the roles ascribed to us.
— Extract from the Executive Summary of the South African National Development Plan 2030

It’s not the easiest way to manage a growing brand, but possibly a more robust one.

Written by Jon Cherry.

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