AI: What is a low-threat way to introduce teams to the concept of using negative judgment for a positive purpose to improve on a creative solution?

David Kord Murray: If people understand the 6 steps [to business innovation by building on the ideas of others, outlined in Borrowing Brilliance], then they become aware that judgment is good because it’s a tool you can use to make an idea better.  They understand the entire process, and they see the results.

In a team you can soften the blow of a negative judgment by saying, “let me play devil’s advocate with you…here’s what I don’t like about what you’re telling me…”

Of course, it’s also important to identify why you like an idea.  Reinforce why it’s worth improving.

When the IPhone first came out…Steve Jobs said, “it’s way too big, but I do like integrating ITunes.”  That’s why he was such a brilliant innovator, and became known so widely even beyond the software industry.  He was manic – up one moment and down the next.  Being that way naturally he would LOVE ideas one moment and the next day he would HATE it and rant on it.  He employed different points of view to evaluate the same subject.  Call it switching hats, if you will.  Edward DiBona describes a similar kind of process in his book Six Thinking Hats – two of the hats are positive and negative judgment.  You have to play both good cop and bad cop toward the idea you’re working with.

To take an example from my consulting work…I’m working with a company inRidgefield,CT.  It is facing some real problems, the whole industry is, and the company needs to develop more creative processes.  One of the problems is a passive/aggressive management that says “do this, don’t do that.”   In an atmosphere where ideas are either accepted or rejected whole cloth, the unspoken message is “don’t debate, don’t study the pros and cons.”   And the employees are taking it personally.

We are putting a program together to teach management that it has a core responsibility to keep ideas flowing.  To move ideas and features around and check incremental progress as you restructure takes a long time.  They can respond to an idea by speaking to both sides, the positive and the negative, and then send the employees back to the drawing board.  That’s how you’re going to get the kind of improvements that lead to true innovation happening.