Discovering Innovative ‘3rd Ideas’

Discovering Innovative ‘3rd Ideas’

A Conflict-Readiness Approach to Releasing Creativity


By Don and Kathleen Thoren

Based on our research within various economic sectors in North America & Western Europe, we discovered the following explosive and expensive fact.  People told us that during meetings and even one-on-one discussions, 34% of the time invested did not contribute to solutions or new ideas!  Here is our summary of the data and their comments.

Old ideas get “locked in,” or new ideas get “locked out.” because:

  1.   People don’t trust others enough to reveal their best ideas to them, or
  2.   People don’t trust themselves enough to challenge the ideas of others.

Imagine the cost savings on that 34%, if your organization becomes more conflict-ready to engage creative differences and seek creative new outcomes described as “3rd Ideas?”

Imagine the time savings on that 34%, if your organization becomes more conflict-ready, and therefore more creative, in the thousands of meetings and discussions involved in the creation of new products and services?

Conflict is fertile ground for discovering innovative solutions to problems and for discovering pathways to the creation of new products and services! Organizations that challenge the “status quo” and don’t limit the expression of opinions to “political correctness” are more avant-garde and successful.  Pursuing aggressive goals predictably reveals a range of reactions from minor creative differences to outright conflicting ideas. This naturally occurring conflict is usually honest differences of opinion, yet it is still very difficult to manage.

Most individuals, team leaders and managers are uncomfortable with conflict, morally conditioned to avoid it, and unskilled in processing it. The good news is that “conflict-ready” people can focus on creating “3rd Ideas” rather than the 1)traditional win/lose or 2)compromise outcomes.  A “3rd Idea” is not a lesser compromise, but rather a better idea than the original ideas.

Ideas are the life blood of organizational success and personal satisfaction. People, who are not conflict-ready, often grieve about what was lost in compromise or feel guilty or angry over the results of win/lose and it drastically slows implementation. However, conflict-ready adversaries jointly energize a search to validate and implement their innovative, new “3rd Idea.”

 Historic Formulas to Stimulate Innovation

The many formulas for “designing in” a source of differing/conflicting characteristics to cultivate innovative thinking in an organization include mixing:

  •   convergent + divergent thinkers
  •   rewards + time pressures
  •   play + discipline
  •   structure + serendipity
  •  experienced + new people

The above pairings have proven potential for unleashing creativity. Explore them, but be cautious in their implementation.  If inadequately managed, each pairing incites its own predictable conflict that can be just as destructive as it can be innovative.

 The Key Ingredients to an Innovative Culture

The critical success ingredients to cultivate an innovative culture where leaders and employees convert conflict into innovative “3rd Idea” outcomes are:

  1.  A belief system that is comfortable with conflict; values its potential for good and encourages the competition of ideas.
  2. Communication skills (Dia-Suasion is a practical and unique integration of dialogue and persuasion skills) that enable individuals to actively engage conflicting ideas and through a skilled and efficient exchange of information and experiences; co-create the best idea.

When both of these key ingredients are present, the resulting philosophy and behavior between people is summarized by a former VP of Motorola and former client of ours, Bob Solem, who coined our motto:


“Let Ideas Compete—Not People!”


 Two Seemingly Contradictory Leadership Styles That Foster Innovation:  

1.     Honor individualism and encourage individuals to create novel, high potential solutions or pathways, while simultaneously.   .   .

2.     Develop a harmonious and cooperative team committed to achieving organization objectives.

Equipping the “Conflict-Ready” Organization to Produce “3rd Ideas”

There are different schools of thought about the best way to integrate individualism and cooperation in the pursuit of aggressive goals.  One advocates using dialogue skills and the other advocates persuasion skills. Our research and training efforts have led us to believe that people in the truly creative organization must learn to integrate skills from both these skills sets. This integrated skill set assures that.   .   .

  •  Mutual understanding is achieved (curiosity from the dialogue set), and in addition,
  •  Mutual commitment is secured (confidence from the persuasion set) so that timely action can take place.

Conflict-readiness became our goal after understanding the huge potential savings in cost and time represented by reducing the 34% wasted time in interpersonal communication.  The solution was to test and refine a mix of dialogue and persuasion skills.  Conflict-ready people have the versatility to be curious about others ideas (even seemingly dumb ones!) while also being an effective nominator of their own ideas. Once equipped with a conflict-ready approach to releasing creativity, people can effectively and creatively facilitate themselves and their teams through dynamic problem/opportunity analysis. They can then tackle ideas examination, selection and implementation with more trust and less time and cost.

It is our opinion that teaching a conflict-readiness approach to releasing creativity is easier than teaching cooperation, compromise, negotiation, and a sometimes phony form of consensus.  Why not encourage bright people to skillfully “fight” for the best idea any group is capable of producing, short of creeping elegance?

Describing Creative Organizations Where “Ideas Compete — Not People:

  •  We are not surprised that we have genuine and deeply held creative differences.  That is why we are complimentary and creative in skillful interactions.
  •  Our competing ideas collide skillfully and the collision gives birth to “3rd Ideas” until we agree on which idea is the most effective and desirable.
  •  Our “3rd Ideas” are not compromises reached by giving in or giving up something valuable; they are better than our original ideas.
  •  Our self esteem and trust increase because we understand how to manage, participate in and therefore benefit from the positive potential of conflict.
  •  Our organization thrives on our innovative “3rd Ideas” that successfully solve problems and discovers pathways to new products and services that meet the needs of our rapidly changing world.

So, What About You?

Enhancing your conflict-readiness skills to fully release your creative potential is not as illusive as it may seem. These skills also help you help others to release their creativity. Even if you have never thought of yourself as very creative, or if you shy away from conflict, you can develop or improve the skills necessary to put management of conflict and creativity in your arsenal of success tools. Your unique ability to pick among a variety of “Dia-Suasion” skills can make a powerful contribution that facilitates the discovery of innovative new “3rd Ideas.”

Your conflict-readiness skills enable both individual initiative and organizational harmony to be preserved. You can be an even more effective change agent at any level of an organization, association, church, charity, club and even your own home!  You can become one who others respect as a catalyst for helping generate “3rd Ideas” that create breakthrough thinking and break out results!

Like any other skill set, either physical or mental, practice is essential.  Deep or deliberate practice to achieve mastery is almost always worth the effort.  An essential component to your practice is massive amounts of feedback from respected sources.  This practice and feedback make you more ready to trust yourself to act.  You are more willing to extend trust to others, because you have a sense of trust in yourself that you will be able to “handle” whatever the other person chooses to do.  You have more tools for maximizing the results and personal satisfaction with whatever you challenge yourself with in work and life!

Kathleen and Don Thoren hope and pray these ideas will encourage you.




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