Dissent is good for creativity

At work we spend a lot of time working in groups, and collaboration is how most creative work is done. However, research has shown that work groups are not more creative than individuals working alone. So much for brainstorming etc. The reason for this is that groups tend to reach consensus, often before exploring the alternatives and different perspectives. This is especially true when there is a majority in the group, the majority decides what “think” the group should think. If for example a strong majority in a work group discussing marketing plans thinks investing in the Social Media trend is the best thing to do then other members of the group with opposing views tend to keep quiet. This tendancy to agree with the majority and quickly reach consensus is true for just about any type of work group and it sabotages creativity. Most groups tend to focus on trying to agree upon something rather than discussing the different options and this which almost always retards creativity. There is however a way to get groups to be more creative.

It’s called dissent. Dissent means voicing opinions that conflict with those that are commonly accepted or officially espoused. For work groups to be truely creative they need at least one dissenter. Dissent professor Carsten de Dreu says that  “The reality is we need dissent. Without dissent, society would come to a halt; we wouldn’t change or create or innovate. But dissenters are despised or ignored or persecuted by the majority.” So even if a dissenter isn’t liked by the group then he/she is needed if we want group creativity.
What if the groups dissenter is wrong? Well it doesn’t matter, even wrong dissent makes the group more creative and improves decision-making. The dissenter liberates the rest of the group from automatically conforming to the majority and allows them to think more for themselves.

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