In business, conflict is needed. In business, creativity is needed. In business, often the real devil is consensus, which destroys creativity. Where a conflict is avoided at any cost, then real creativity is lost. Here is an analogy I love. In my experience, the iridescent pearl is one of mother nature’s most beautiful creations. A pearl’s unique beauty is born out of a continuous and prolonged conflict. A pearl comes into being when an irritant, usually a tiny parasite, works its way inside an oyster shell. Under conflict, layer upon layer of a slimy ‘nacre’ coating is laid over the irritant. Month upon month and year upon year, this conflicted space, between opposing worlds, eventually creates an object of beauty.
As a conference speaker one of my goals, early in my speech, is to ask one or more questions of the audience that divides the room. I create two opposing views in people’s minds. To do this, I ask for a show of hands about a yet to be resolved or perhaps contentious issue in the client’s industry or environment. e.g. “Should most of the Lawyers in your firm be replaced with machine learning and artificial intelligence?” or “Should the use of Bitcoin be regulated in our region?” By polarising the room, I seek doubt and conflict rather than consensus. My now conflicted audience feels a little less identified with their own worldview. Minds open and people become more curious about the other half of the audience’s point of view. The audience starts trying to find ways to bridge the gap. Audience members tend to become more creative. They also become more engaged with what is being shared during my talk.
For centuries, the Roman Catholic Church ensured that an official member of the Executive is appointed as the Devil’s Advocate. This official had the task of presenting arguments that were in conflict with the propositions currently before the Church Council.
Using a few words, write down six headings that summarise six things your business or organisation has committed to. Then under each heading, for the sake of argument, write out three arguments that conflict with that commitment.
What did you notice? Does all the underlying logic stack up? Are you now aware of risks that others may have not previously considered? Does playing the role of Devil’s Advocate offer a more creative way to proceed?