Conflict and Creativity


Leonard Zwelling

         I spent the morning of March 21 at a seminar on creativity
called “The Architecture of the Mind.” It was about how the mechanics of human
thought processes influence group dynamics and creativity.

         Although the majority of the concepts about group dynamics,
groupthink, perception, bias, and the process of interpersonal communication are
ones I had heard before, the speaker, Dana Carney of the University of
California at Berkeley, did teach me one new lesson that inherently made a lot
of sense.

         If you believe, and I do, that you get the most productive
and creative work product from groups of diverse individuals who bring very
different life experiences and areas of expertise to a problem, you may then
accept that there will be a certain amount of interpersonal conflict within
that group on the way to the best solution. However, the amount of that conflict
among the members of a work group is minimized by trust among those people and
maximized when trust is lacking.

         Thus, for any leader seeking creative solutions to difficult
problems, it is essential that the leader collect a diverse group from which to
get his desired work product and that he establish an environment of trust if
those in the process are to keep interpersonal conflict to a minimum while
dealing with the inherent conflict from which great ideas spring.

         Now there’s concept!

`        Exhibit one to illustrate how bad management yields bad
results with a lack of creativity would be Mr. Trump whose most valuable
counsel he gets from himself. He doesn’t even need other people to advise him.
After all, “he has a good brain.” I am not sure I see the evidence of this, but
there can be no doubt that the complexities of problems faced by the President
of the United States require as much input into decision making as is possible
along with the counsel of the leaders of Congress from both sides of the aisle,
something Mr. Obama never did learn.

         Let’s look a little closer to home.

         Recently I have had the occasion to confer with some of
those people who counseled Dr. DePinho on various aspects of internal
governance and strategic direction setting. Like Mr. Trump Dr. DePinho was
pretty much his own counsel although one has to suspect that the Wife and The
Lawyer had at least one of his ears at times. Dr. DePinho’s lack of
consultation with the faculty and the Faculty Senate is now legendary and
despite the insistence of some that “shared governance” is now working, show me
a major decision that advice from the Faculty Senate has influenced in a major
way (e.g., tenure). When I see the financials of IACS and the true revenue and
expenditures of ALL of MD Anderson, perhaps I will believe that there is a good
plan and that the faculty has contributed to it.

         The beautiful part of the old MD Anderson was not that Dr.
LeMaistre was constantly asking the faculty for advice. He wasn’t. But he
understood what to leave to the faculty (clinical, research and educational
matters) and what to keep for himself (governance, finance, and relations with
the UT System). The immediate past President really started his tenure on the
right foot and made great gains in this arena by extending the LeMaistre role
to include faculty input in matters that he oversaw. At least for the first 5
years. Then came, oh well, you know…

         The new guy is taking no chances. He owns everything. He
decides everything. He could care less what the faculty thinks about him or his
decisions. He is in his own low Earth orbit on the way to the moon and making
sure it’s a solo flight. It could work, but not without a lot of conflict
because the trust is so low.

         Dr. DePinho could change this tomorrow if he wished to by
reaching out meaningfully to the faculty and reconstituting the environment of
the LeMaistre years or the early Mendelsohnian Age. As of now, the trust is
low, the creativity lower, and the angst and ennui higher.

         Ron, you shoulda been at the seminar!

Leonard Zwelling