Vollmer newest research on Constructive Controversy for Innovation

Albert Vollmer , the chair of Work and Organizational Psychology at  ETH Zurich, Switzerland, is leading  an applied research project called “Constructive Controversy for Innovation”. The goal is to introduce the concept  of Constructive Controversy for resolving conflicts in team innovation decision making.  The core of the  concept is the intellectual, or task conflict which arises when different people have to combine their different knowledge into a joint decision. Dr Vollmer suggests that the reality is that  organizational people don’t employ  methods for  integrating different perspectives but  act ad-hoc or intuitively and hope to avoid or mimimize conflicts. They  either have  no  understanding of innovation as a  process, or  think of it as a linear model,  or don’t recognize that in every phase of an innovation process there are opposing forces of differentiation and integration which must be managed.

We have accepted Dr Vollmer’s  invitation  to join the project to integrate our  research and experience  incorporating   such opposing forces into innovation as a process and the  skills to implement the process. We have devoted a lifetime to raising awareness of innovation as a learnable process and increasing comfort with it by simplifying its understanding  as a fluid four stage  process  that includes continuously discovering and defining new problems, solving those problems and implementing the new solutions. We have created an instrument by which a  team or individual can quickly and simply experience the  process by assessing   its relative preferences and inclinations for problem finding , problem conceptualizing, problem solving and solution implementation activity..  The measurement tool is called the Basadur Profile and can be accessed at www.basadurprofile.com. Team members can learn to appreciate individuals’ differing preferences for various stages of the inniovation process and  encourage and enable people to think together in innovative ways.

There are also  attitudinal, behavioral and thinking skills that are required to make the innovation process work. We will contribute field  research  presented at an Academy of Management conference entitled“Facilitating High Quality Idea Evaluation Using Telescoping “.   In summary,   we report that traditional research studies of group creativity and innovation have commonly utilized the traditional two-step diverging (ideation) –converging (evaluation) thinking process .  This research has focused mostly on the ideation step using the tool of brainstorming to generate ideas to solve problems, with relatively little attention given to improving group skills in performing the evaluation step and understanding its role in yielding high quality creative solutions.  In our new  study, we propose that while the evaluation step is fundamental for making judgments and for the selection of ideas and options, when performed skillfully it can contribute much more to the creative process. These contributions include significantly improving the quality of the ideas being evaluated while they are being evaluated, creating emergent new and different ideas, and building consensus. A hands-on, effective, research-based cognitive evaluation tool called “telescoping” which offers the capability of evolving optimal decisions without sacrificing high levels of consensus is introduced. The decision making literature abounds with well known obstacles which prevent groups from achieving this combination.  How skillful execution of telescoping addresses these obstacles is shared. Field research is reported that supports the superiority of telescoping versus majority vote in real world idea evaluation. We hope to help Dr Vollmer provide valuable  insights into theory, research, and application recommendations for scientists, researchers, practitioners, and consultants.

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