Inspire, develop & celebrate creativity

How Arguments And Friction Can Inspire Creativity

This article is not about how to debate well,  communicate in giraffe language, or should in any way be considered good relationship advice. This article is all about realising the creative potential in a good argument.

Arguing for An Argument

While picking a fight with a friend, relative or your significant other may not seem like a good way to boost your creativity, research has found it actually works. A study done by Dreu and Nijstad (in scientific sources below) found that having an argument with someone brought about positive benefits for creativity.

There are a couple of reasons why friction can boost inspiration. One of the main reasons is that people who argue about an issue automatically become more engaged in the issue. As you become more engaged in the topic you are discussing, you are able to view it from different angles and/or get a more in-depth view of the angle that you are viewing it from.

A reason why having an argument can enhance creativity is the fact that it enables you to get an in-depth point of view from an opposing perspective.

While you may not like or agree with what the other person has to say, genuinely listening to an opposite point of view can enable you to see issues in a different light. Something the other person says may inspire you to change the way you thing, thus creating something new and/or incorporate new concepts, materials or styles.

Rebecca Goldstein writes in her book
Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away‘:

“…Plato conceived of philosophy as necessarily gregarious rather than solitary. The exposure of presumptions is best done in company, the more argumentative the better. This is why discussion around the table is so essential. … Everything is aired in the bracing dialectic wind stirred by many clashing viewpoints. … There can be nothing like “Well, that’s what I was brought up to believe,” or “I just feel that it’s right,” or “I am privy to an authoritative voice whispering in my ear,” or “I’m demonstrably smarter than all of you, so just accept that I know better here.”

Add Zest Not Bile By Arguing the Right Way

Getting frustrated with yourself or someone else will get you nowhere. Don’t confuse friction with frustration.

If you want to obtain the creative benefits that arguing with someone can bring about, you have to argue the right way. As was touched on above, you will need to listen to what the other person is saying. At the same time, you do not want to automatically adopt the other person’s point of view. Debate it thoroughly so that you can bring out all sides of the equation and thus gain the benefit of seeing an issue more in-depth than you would have otherwise.

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 Tips for Inducing Creative Friction

  • Keep it friendly, be kind and show respect
  • Attempt to release tension and lighten the mood as you go along
  • Only after the above points is fulfilled do you offer alternative viewpoint

Rules of Engagement

  • Don’t make it personal and don’t take it personal
  • Don’t expect or aim for agreement or closure
  • Don’t win. The best way to loose valuable insights is trying too hard to win the argument

All’s well that ends well

  • Make sure the other party is understood and knows so
  • Show gratitude for the willingness to fight a good fight.  Appreciate your sparring partner’s honesty and vigour
  • Write a list of the viewpoints and their pros and cons, later enrich and elaborate each point

Parthian shot

While arguing is typically seen as a negative activity, it does not necessarily have to be. Arguments have positive benefits for many creatives. Engage in it the right way and you will find yourself and your art becoming more spicy.



Scientific Sources Used in This Article



Mental set and creative thought in social conflict: threat rigidity versus motivated focus

By: De Dreu CK1, Nijstad BA.

According to the traditional threat-rigidity reasoning, people in social conflict will be less flexible, less creative, more narrow-minded, and more rigid in their thinking when they adopt a conflict rather than a cooperation mental set. The authors propose and test an alternative, motivated focus account that better fits existing evidence. The authors report experimental results inconsistent with a threat-rigidity account, but supporting the idea that people focus their cognitive resources on conflict-related material more when in a conflict rather than a cooperation mental set. Furthermore, they generate more, and more original competition tactics, especially when they have low rather than high need for cognitive closure.

Read more at PubMed



Implications of Counterfactual Structure for Creative Generation and Analytical Problem Solving

By: Keith D. MarkmanMatthew J. LindbergLaura J. KrayAdam D. Galinsky.

The authors hypothesized that additive counterfactual thinking mind-sets, activated by adding new antecedent elements to reconstruct reality, promote an expansive processing style that broadens conceptual attention and facilitates performance on creative generation tasks. A reanalysis of a published data set suggested that the counterfactual mind-set primes previously used in the literature tend to evoke subtractive counterfactuals. Studies demonstrated that subtractive counterfactual mind-sets enhanced performance on analytical problem-solving tasks relative to additive counterfactual mind-sets, whereas other studies found that additive counterfactual mind-sets enhanced performance on creative generation tasks.

Read more at Personality and Social Psychology Bulleting






Dual Tuning in a Supportive Context: Joint Contributions of Positive Mood, Negative Mood, and Supervisory Behaviors to Employee Creativity

By: Jennifer M. GeorgeJing Zhou

We develop a dual-tuning perspective concerning how positive and negative moods interact to influence creativity in supportive contexts. Using data on employees in an oil field services company, we hypothesized and found that when supervisors provided a supportive context for creativity and positive mood was high, negative mood had a strong, positive relation to creativity, with creativity being the highest when the context was supportive and both positive and negative moods were high. We explored three alternative ways in which supervisors can provide a supportive context: by providing developmental feedback, by displaying interactional justice, and by being trustworthy.

Read more at Academy of Management Journal



A Dynamic Perspective on Affect and Creativity

By: Ronald BledowKathrin RosingMichael Frese

We argue that creativity is influenced by the dynamic interplay of positive and negative affect: High creativity results if a person experiences an episode of negative affect that is followed by a decrease in negative affect and an increase in positive affect, a process referred to as an “affective shift.” An experience-sampling study with 102 full-time employees provided support for the hypotheses. An experimental study with 80 students underlined the proposed causal effect of an affective shift on creativity. We discuss practical implications for facilitating creativity in organizations.

Read more at Academy of Management Journal