Constructive Conflict


These forces produce innovation in oppositional pairs through creative and constructive conflict.


Constructive Conflict Diagram




The Collaborate approach moves towards connection, harmony, and togetherness. This approach represents human relationships, the identification with family and community, and the greater good of Man. The Collaborate approach is typically associated with the slowest forms of innovation because it focuses on building the underlying organizational culture and competencies required to sustain it.

The Compete approach, the opposite of Collaborate, represents a Darwinist approach that focuses on competition where the strong prevail at the expense of the weak. This approach represents the drive toward goals and the end game of power, money, fame, and other tangible forms of success. Contained within this is a rational view of the world as divided between winners and losers. This form of innovation is the fastest of all four but is not typically sustainable because its “sweatshop” approach gives little concern to the development of others.

The Create approach pursues radical innovation through wild experimentation and extreme dislocation of conventions. Often this form of innovation is event-driven by an unconventional breakthrough, such as a miracle drug or cataclysmic event (like an act of terrorism or a natural catastrophe). The incident is so extreme that a traditional response would be untenable. Evolutionary biology refers to this total displacement of convention as “punctuated equilibrium,” meaning the revolutionary moment when the trajectory of innovation is irrevocably altered. The Create approach burns bridges behind it. Although this approach provides the greatest magnitude of innovation, it also brings about the greatest risk.

The Control approach represents incremental innovation – taking something that exists and modifying it to make it better. In this view, there is a right and wrong way governed by the irrefutable laws of science and civility. Interpretations are of little significance in the face of rules and standards. Data wins the day. This approach is closely associated with technology, systems, and engineering employed to streamline complexity and increase efficiency and quality. This methodical march of progress often brings with it unwanted bureaucracy.


Magnitude and Speed






It is a simple fact: the green innovators and the red innovators don’t see eye-to-eye. But they need each other to achieve growth. Left alone, green thinkers become orphans who don’t relate to the rest of the organization. Left alone, red thinkers become static bureaucrats. Green needs red to scale the business—to make innovation replicable. Red needs green to help see the future. Without green, red will become habit-obsessed, perpetually looking backward. This is a productive tension—a conflict that is constructive. The goal here is to use the advantages of each quadrant at the right time: listen more to green thinkers in the early stages of growth, and as you get larger, listen more to the red thinkers.

At a larger level, the tension between the yellow and blue quadrants represents a generational conflict. Baby Boomers are often blue thinkers—cutthroat, competitive, revenue-obsessed—while Millenials are often yellow thinkers—hopeful, slow-moving, driven by values. These are people who need each other. Without blue thinkers, yellow thinkers become victims of groupthink and irrational enthusiasm. Without yellow thinkers, blue thinkers become impatient and have no long-term goals—everything they do is for the moment.

Create new hybrid forms of innovation through these constructive conflicts. Consider how fast and how much innovation you want. How you create is what you create.