October 30,2019 Facilitating Innovation

Debate to Create

Debate to Create


During the Italian Renaissance, the concept of paragone was begun. This called for the pitting of creative efforts against one another. The belief was that an artist could not truly understand the art’s real significance until it was vetted. This became the foundation of debate to create, the concept of innovation via feedback.

Father of the Nuclear Navy

Admiral Hyman Rickover, the father of the Nuclear Navy, converted the United States submarine and aircraft carrier fleet from oil-powered to nuclear powered. When setting up this massive project, Rickover employed two government contractors, Westinghouse and General Electric to design, test, and build reactor prototypes.

Westinghouse versus GE

Both contractors competed against one another not only for project funding but for the overall design. Once a prototype was built, the competing company would then perform the quality assurance testing against the reactor designs. Rickover believed that this put in place a rigorous technical review process while also sharing new innovations across both companies. This methodology led to the rapid four-year design of the first working prototype S1W in 1953. Built and tested in the Idaho desert which led to the first nuclear-powered submarine the USS Nautilus commissioned for sea in 1958.

Going Beyond Groupthink

Using outside eyes to candidly discuss ideas, organically eliminates groupthink. New eyes view unfamiliar problems and solutions as a newborn. They ask numerous questions to understand and, in that process, they uncover blind spots. The blind spots occur in creators because they have limited domain knowledge, or their passion has clouded their perspective and systematic viewpoint.

Challenge of Debate

Debate brings upon a challenge for the creator. Debate helps think through and vet an idea. When challenged the idea can become scaffolding for a new idea on top of the original. The debate process can also fully workout the specifics of the idea. It can also help tear an idea down as it crumbles when attempting to explain the underlying logic. The overarching goal is achieving a thoroughly vetted idea captured famously by Admiral Rickover. “If you can’t write it out you don’t understand it.”

Feedback Timing

The timing of feedback makes the debating of ideas successful or unsuccessful. Constructive feedback during the brainstorming process interrupts the flow of ideas. It will also keep people from volunteering ideas. Holding a debate after the brainstorming session, however, will help to refine and improve upon all the ideas. This refinement leads to a better understanding and becomes a quality improvement.

Additionally, debating helps reduce the number of ideas. The brainstorming process craves for a mass of ideas, yet implementation demands a limited number of workable ideas. Debate helps to pare down the sheer mass of ideation. This reduction mitigates idea overload and helps to prioritizes them.

Idea Focus

Debating helps the team take ownership of the concept. As debate can raise passions when controlled it also brings group understanding. This moves the talking points from emotional to logical enabling a merit-based decision.  Theoretically, this also controls for individuals that agree in person but do not support later for they were heavily engaged in the decision process.

Crowdsourcing and design thinking have created an abundance of ideas in the modern workplace. This also brings about the issue of how to capture the most promising ideas. Researchers suggest employing an inside-out process that applies criticism in terms of the capabilities of the organization to execute. The process then creates a pros and cons list that ranks ideas on risk and effort by impact to get the probability.

Practical Application

  • Once a brainstorming session has ended, have the team force rank their top 10 ideas. This will enable debate based on merit versus passion.
  • Create an evaluation model on how to judge the top 10 ideas, this will add structure to the future debate.
  • Create a playoff bracket to debate competitively the top 10 ideas against each other. Encourage the team to combine ideas and generate new ideas as they’re debated.

Fighting Kids

Orville and Wilbur Wright will forever embody innovation as the builders of the first airplane. As brothers, it was believed that they were so connected that they thought together. In fact, they spent most of their time fighting one another. They found a high level of synchrony which enabled candidness and free form fighting over topics without fear of repercussion from the other.

Hence, Parenting

The traditional thought around brainstorming was to withhold criticism. This belief then spread beyond the bounds of brainstorming and devalued the importance of having a good argument. The original legal system found the value of debate pitting the prosecutor versus the defendant. Topics would be debated to death under the belief that justice can only be uncovered through thorough investigation and deliberation.

Modern parenting techniques have led Parents to shy away from disagreements. Emphasizing niceties, getting along, and to have a united front with the other parent. The after effect resulted in a generation uncomfortable with conflict and disagreement. This uncomfortableness leads to mitigating disagreements and the weakening of debate. Hence, a weakened ability to debate equals a limited ability to create.


Cozzens, P. (2019). Building the Transcontinental Railroad. The Wall Street Journal.

Gryta, T. a. (2019).Another GE Powered the American Century, Then It Burned Down. Wall Street Journal.

The Editors. (2019, October 20). General Electric. Retrieved from Encyclopedia Britannica:

Welch, J. a. (2005). Winning: The Ultimate Business How-To Book. New York: Harper Business.

Watson, M. (2018). Another Common Strategies and Practices Among Facilitators of Innovative Thinking in Organizations. Ann Arbor, MI: ProQuest.

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