In today’s tumultuous world, many people will call themselves grateful if they have a peaceful, harmonious workplace.
But Jeff DeGraff, whose advice has been sought by business innovators such as Microsoft, General Electric and Pfizer, says the problem with a placid workplace is that it’s an innovation killer. Too many workers getting along because they all think alike – or don’t want to upset the status quo – isn’t the way to generate new processes and products.
“The death of innovation is apathy,” says DeGraff, a professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. “One of the first signs is that people won’t engage in different ideas – they go along with the company line.”
That doesn’t mean that companies should encourage employees to go at one another tooth and nail. But it is important that teams have members with different personalities, cultures and ideas to keep creative juices flowing and prevent companies from getting in a rut.
The proof that such a strategy works is that there are “about 30 places on the planet that produce the most intellectual property and what they all have in common is an extremely diverse workforce,” he says.
DeGraff promotes the idea that it’s critical to stir the workplace pot, as evidenced from the title of his new book, “The Innovation code: The Creative Power of Constructive Conflict.” At the same time, he stresses that he doesn’t want chaos to be never-ending.
It’s “constructive conflict,” he says, that is the most valuable, an atmosphere where people with different ideas “collide with one another on a regular basis.”
Among his other suggestions to harness the power of diverse ideas and foster better innovation:
It’s estimated that the failure rate of new products is around 40% (the failure rate of 80% is seen as an urban myth), and Nielsen data estimates that only 15% of consumer packaged goods that launch in the U.S. today will be around in two years. The cost for launching a new product has been cited as high as $71 million, meaning that the commitment to innovation is fraught with risk – but that the risk of not innovating may be greater. Explaining such a business landscape can help spur teams to better accept change and different ideas in order to drive innovation.
“There’s two things that every organization needs. The first is to survive, and that means maintaining predictive practices. The second is to grow, and that’s an attractive thing when you think about it,” DeGraff says. “What drives us to grow is our feeling of incompleteness. There’s something very attractive about having a new way to grow.”