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Harvard Business Review
The study 'The art of criticism' conducted by prof. Roberto Verganti shows that criticism, not ideation, is the key to innovation.

13 - 01 - 2016

The myth of innovation has always been “to have new ideas”. So in recent years many organizations have improved their creative capabilities. They have invested in approaches such as open innovation, design thinking, crowdsourcing. And they are able today to access an unprecedented amount of ideas. Yet, they struggle to realize breakthrough changes. Why?

A study published by Harvard Business Review shows that in today’s context, criticism not ideation, is the key to innovation.

The study, conducted by Roberto Verganti, a Professor of Leadership and Innovation at the Politecnico di Milano School of Management, has analyzed several cases of innovation, including Nest (the start up recently acquired by Google for 3,2 billion dollars), Microsoft, Alfa Romeo. It shows that criticism, which has often been considered detrimental for innovation, can instead be a true engine of growth. 
In the article Verganti illustrates that organizations today do not miss ideas and opportunities. They are overwhelmed by ideas, thanks also to the web. “We live in a world awash of opportunities”, says Verganti “where the most difficult thing is to understand which direction to go. We do not suffer for a lack of ideas. Often, the right ideas is already in front of our eyes, but we do not recognize it. What we need, to see it, is to change our lenses. We need a new vision”. Without a new vision, an organization gets easily lost in the sea of opportunities, and tends to recognize only those ideas that support an old path. New ideas are worthless without a new vision.

How do we change our vision?  Many think that a new vision comes from a mysterious invisible process. In reality, just as there is a process for having new ideas, there is also a process for having a new vision, a process based on the art of criticism. The art of criticism enables us to explicitly question existing assumptions and turn them into a bold new interpretation. Taking a critical stance does not imply being negative, but going deeper, searching for contrasts between different perspectives, creating tensions, looking from a new vantage point, reshuffling things to find a new order.

The article describes how to practice the art of criticism through examples and cases. It shows for example how the two founders of Nest, Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers have worked as sparring partners, criticizing each other, to build a breakthrough vision of smart homes. Or how Microsoft ventured with the Xbox into game consoles thanks to four individuals who had a critical perspective on their organization approach to the game business.
The step ahead of established innovation theories is significant. Whereas ideation suggests deferring judgment, the art of criticism innovates through judgment.

Ultimately, the article illustrates how to build value in a scenario where solutions are increasingly accessible, but problems keep changing. It’s the next step in the innovation journey: from the era of ideas to the era visions. Now that organizations have improved their creative capabilities, it’s time to make sense of this wealth of ideas to really capture their potential.
Read the full article on Harvard Business Review online https://hbr.org/2016/01/the-innovative-power-of-criticism.