Chapter 4 Summary

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Last Updated on October 6, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 472

Australian organizational psychologist Karen “Etty” Jehn, one of the world’s leading experts on conflict, found in her research two types of conflict: relationship conflict and task conflict. While the former is entrenched in personal dislike, the latter centers on clashing ideas and opinions. In a study conducted by Grant in Silicon Valley, Grant found that the teams who started with low relationship conflict often outperformed those with high ones—even as they went through periods of high task conflict. Task conflict, he maintains, actually often leads to smarter and more creative decisions. One study found that highly creative architects often came from households with high levels of productive disagreement. Another example Grant gives is that of the brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright, who were both able to cultivate the skill of arguing constructively due to the home environment fostered by their father.

Grant emphasizes the importance of surrounding one’s self with a challenge network rather than a support network. He takes the case of Brad Bird, an animator who assembled a group of “pirates” to work on a project that Pixar’s technical leadership had dubbed impossibly difficult. Through working with creatives who were energized rather than discouraged by conflict, he was able to produce The Incredibles, which grossed upward of $631 million worldwide on its release. In a conversation with Grant, Bird revealed that he grew up a “pirate,” as his home life was full of contentious yet enjoyable debates.

Two of Bird’s producers, John Walker and Nicole Grindle, were an integral part of Bird’s challenge network during the production of the Incredibles franchise. Grindle became the voice of the voiceless on Bird’s team, as she was concerned that those who lacked power or status might be hesitant to engage in disagreements with Bird and Walker. Walker, meanwhile, debated with Bird extensively even though he tended to be agreeable and nonconfrontational in his personal life. Both Walker and Grindle maintain that the key to such productive task conflict is the presence of a common goal—in their case, “making great films.”

Grant returns to the Wright brothers, who had heated arguments that went on for so long that their younger sister Katharine threatened to leave their home. He gives this as an example of task conflict without relationship conflict—as the two brothers’ bond was never beset with personal dislike or animosity. After months of struggling to configure the design of their propeller, they tried a different approach: each brother argued for (instead of against) the other’s point of view. Through this shift into scientist mode, the two were able to realize they were both wrong and eventually came to the right conclusion: two propellers that spun in opposite directions. Grant concludes the chapter by likening the dynamic of these rotating propellers to healthy task conflict.

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