Many business leaders fear criticism. They’ve heard that openly critiquing ideas and work product can stunt creativity, but nothing could be further from the truth. It turns out that criticism and debate – when delivered appropriately – can drive creative innovation and encourage team members to perform optimally.

Recent research by Charles Nemeth, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, shows that criticism may play a productive role in driving creativity. He found that debate and criticism do not inhibit ideas as previously thought. Rather, they stimulate creative innovation relative to every other condition.  In addition, Nemeth’s study found teams that debated their ideas produced an average of 25 percent more ideas than other teams in that same period of time. 

Clearly, structured debate plays a very important role within the enterprise. With that said, here’s how two corporations use criticism to drive creativity in business: 

Xerox uses debate to ensure bullet-proof ideas.

Xerox leverages criticism to weed out bad ideas, and make good ideas better. At their Palo Alto Research Center, they held weekly meetings called “Dealer,” which challenged an individual to present an idea and defend it against a room full of engineers and scientists who would try to openly rip it to shreds. These meetings forced people to operate at the top of their game and continually look for new, bullet-proof, and creative solutions.

Pixar operates at its best by being openly critical of its work product.

At Pixar, criticism is a huge part of their success. The team gathers in a screening room and critiques several seconds of film produced the day prior. The purpose? To ruthlessly tear each frame to shreds. Participants will destroy any detail, no matter how small, if it isn’t perfect. In many cases, lively debates ensue and innovative alternatives are explored. In this way, Pixar uses criticism to ensure that it always operates at its highest level. It acknowledges that failures will happen along the way, and being openly critical allows the team to fix these problems as soon as possible and ensure that only their best efforts are released.

The bottom line is this: A lack of criticism encourages complacency. If an idea isn’t good enough, criticism encourages people to make it better. If the idea-holder disagrees with the critique, they can defend their reasoning. Debates and arguments will inevitably occur – but that’s a good thing because they’ll push your teams to continue thinking outside-the-box and looking for ways to improve.

To learn more about how corporations can encourage innovation and creativity in business, click here to read The Business Value of Creativity.

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The Batterii Team

Batterii is a platform designed to help cross-functional teams collaborate through the front end of the design process. The Batterii Team is made up of designers, user experience experts and developers all working to deliver a product that is used by industry leaders in CPG, Pharma, Automotive and Apparel.