Plus-ing for Success

Plus-ing for Success

How Companies Challenge Curiosity to Drive Business Results

In the spirit of challenging curiosity to generate success, prominent animation studio Pixar uses a technique called “plus-ing.” Each day, the animation team gathers to review the previous day’s work and criticize every aspect. The key to Pixar’s strategy is a “yes, and” instead of a “yes, but” attitude to keep the conversation positive and focused on moving the project forward. 

In his description of Pixar’s plus-ing method, creativity and innovation writer Greg Satell says, “A creative project can only reach its true potential if everyone is working towards its success.” He explains, “[it] takes more than talent, it takes a deeply collaborative process that has been honed over decades… At the center of that process—and all creative processes, in fact—is productive feedback.”

Pixar is a globally beloved, multi-billion-dollar, Academy Award-winning animation studio. It is known for not shying away from scrutiny to bring new, creative ideas to life. How can more leaders ensure their team is challenged while simultaneously feeling encouraged, so that they can withstand the pressures of a competitive market and thrive? 

The solution lies in collaboration through disagreement, or what Miki Kashtan, PhD, a leader in nonviolent communication (NVC), calls “strengthening collaboration through encouraging dissent.” 

She explains, “Creativity is often a response to challenge and adversity, and is thus enhanced by constraints.” Dr. Kashtan refers to these challengers as “outliers” and says they often “speak for others who are less courageous, and, in the context of a commitment to make things work for everyone, they push the process forward into more integrative solutions.”

Supporters are important, too. Researchers from Columbia, Northwestern and Stanford Universities found that naturally-formed groups were more likely to operate smoothly, with positive interactions and a strong commitment to ideas. That positive environment can encourage people to expose their ideas and carry them forward. 

These groups, however, lack the diversity to push ideas to the next level. If a thought receives only support, important information and opportunities to improve the idea can be missed. Dr. Kashtan explains, “Within a truly collaborative context…dissent is simply an opportunity to learn about additional needs that had not been considered by a previously proposed solution.” 

The "Right Fight"

While criticism is essential in the idea development phase, the conflict must be managed. Best-selling author on creativity, innovation, and business David Burkus explains, “whenever you’re fighting about ideas…it’s important that you’re engaging in the ‘right fight,’ criticizing another person’s ideas and not the person himself.” 

This requires that all conflict takes place in an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust. Healthy, focused debates demand a safe space for offering dissenting views. Managers can encourage positive push-back by asking their higher-ups respectful, productive questions that show interest in dissenting viewpoints. 

Miki Kashtan provides an example. “Instead of saying: ‘Are you on board with the new proposal?’, they can say, ‘I would love to hear all concerns about the new proposal so we can improve on it.’” Managers can ensure that their employees are not punished for offering dissenting viewpoints aimed at improving a project. And, managers can provide training opportunities to develop interpersonal debate skills. 

These investments make the workplace more open to collaboration through disagreement, encouraging curiosity, creativity, and innovation.  

Recognizing the need for collaborative, innovative environments, Apple has created Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow – Today. The program seeks to help high schools create a learning environment in which students can be innovative and creative and which encourages them to stay in school. Optimizing the learning environment of the next generation of innovators, Apple hopes to not only keep kids in school, but also to encourage them to unlock there curiosity and use it every day. 

Per the creators of this program, a culture of innovation requires not only supporters, but also challengers. “This does not mean that focus, process and discipline are not important; just that innovation and creativity require freedom, disagreement, and perhaps even a little chaos-especially at the beginning.” 

While encouraging innovation and curiosity are imperative for creative ideas to flourish, workplace conflict—managed appropriately—can also help these ideas develop to their best possible form. The most successful companies and employees embrace challenge and scrutiny and channel it into a force for positive change. 

This piqued my curiosity!