TED Talk by Margaret Heffernan
“If we were less conflict averse, our eyes would see more, our ears would hear more and we would widen and enrich the people and ideas we were prepared to engage with.” Now that’s a pretty big statement, recently made by entrepreneur and author Margaret Heffernan.
The thesis of her TED Talk suggests, well, strongly suggests, that if we stop being afraid of conflict by learning how to manage it, we would discover our great capacity for innovation and change.
Heffernan provides excellent examples of this concept, one of which is about a doctor who was trying to prove a theory. It wasn’t working so she hired an assistant who “actively sought disconfirmation,” or different ways of looking at her models and at her statistics. He saw his job as creating conflict around her theories. It was only by not being able to prove that she was wrong, that the assistant could give the doctor the confidence she needed to know that she was right.
Heffernan saw this as a fantastic model of collaboration — thinking partners who were not echo chambers. Then she added this challenge: “I wonder how many of us have, or dare to have, such collaborators?” That really made me think. Would I dare to collaborate with someone who was attempting to disprove a theory of mine? At first I wasn’t sure.
The folks in her story — Alice and George — saw what they were doing as “thinking.” And in order to participate in this kind of thinking, Heffernan tells us that we have to find people who are very different from ourselves — different disciplines, different ways of thinking and different experiences. And then we have to find ways to engage with them.
Then comes the really hard part. We have to be prepared to change our minds. Wow! What a concept. Much harder than it sounds or seems. Heffernan believes that we are willfully blind to information that is freely available because we can’t or don’t want to handle the conflict that it provokes.
This new way of thinking, however, takes practice and skills. And that takes patience, time and courage. In order for it to be successful, we have to get really good at it.
But, when we dare to break that silence, when we dare to see and embrace conflict, we enable ourselves and the people around us to do our very best thinking.
Now, that sounds like a good plan to me. Let’s dare to disagree!