Cooperative Criticism: When Criticism Enhances Creativity in Brainstorming and Negotiation

Curhan, J. R., Labuzova, T., & Mehta, A. (2020). Cooperative criticism: When criticism enhances creativity in brainstorming and negotiation. Forthcoming in Organization Science.

46 Pages Posted: 14 Nov 2020 Last revised: 11 Dec 2020

See all articles by Jared R. Curhan

Jared R. Curhan

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management

Tatiana Labuzova

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management

Aditi Mehta

University of Toronto

Date Written: September 26, 2020

Abstract

Long-standing wisdom holds that criticism is antithetical to effective brainstorming because it incites intragroup conflict. However, a number of recent studies have challenged this assumption, suggesting that criticism might actually enhance creativity in brainstorming by fostering divergent thinking. Our paper reconciles these perspectives with new theory and a multi-method investigation to explain when and why criticism promotes creativity in brainstorming. We propose that a cooperative social context allows criticism to be construed positively, spurring creativity without inciting intragroup conflict, whereas a competitive social context makes criticism more divisive, leading to intragroup conflict and a corresponding reduction in creativity. We found support for this theory from a field experiment involving 100 group brainstorming sessions with actual stakeholders in a controversial urban planning project. In a cooperative context, instructions encouraging criticism yielded more ideas and more creative ideas, whereas in a competitive context, encouraging criticism yielded fewer ideas and less creative ideas. We replicated this finding in a lab study involving brainstorming in the context of a union-management negotiation scenario, which allowed us to hold constant the nature of the criticism. Taken together, our findings suggest that the optimal context for creativity in brainstorming is a cooperative one in which criticism occurs, but is interpreted constructively because the brainstorming parties perceive their goals as aligned.

Keywords: innovation, brainstorming, negotiation, criticism, negative feedback, goal interdependence, cooperation, competition, conflict, creativity

Suggested Citation

Curhan, Jared R. and Labuzova, Tatiana and Mehta, Aditi, Cooperative Criticism: When Criticism Enhances Creativity in Brainstorming and Negotiation (September 26, 2020). Curhan, J. R., Labuzova, T., & Mehta, A. (2020). Cooperative criticism: When criticism enhances creativity in brainstorming and negotiation. Forthcoming in Organization Science., Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3700258 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3700258

Jared R. Curhan (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management ( email )

50 Memorial Drive, E52-554
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States
617-253-5219 (Phone)
617-253-2660 (Fax)

Tatiana Labuzova

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management ( email )

100 Main Street
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States

Aditi Mehta

University of Toronto ( email )

Toronto, Ontario M5S 3G8
Canada

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