The Value Of Argument

Kids, would you please start fighting?

The Wright brothers weren’t alone. The Beatles fought over instruments and lyrics and melodies. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony clashed over the right way to win the right to vote. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak argued incessantly while designing the first Apple computer. None of these people succeeded in spite of the drama — they flourished because of it. Brainstorming groups generate 16 percent more ideas when the members are encouraged to criticize one another. The most creative ideas in Chinese technology companies and the best decisions in American hospitals come from teams that have real disagreements early on. Breakthrough labs in microbiology aren’t full of enthusiastic collaborators cheering one another on but of skeptical scientists challenging one another’s interpretations.

If no one ever argues, you’re not likely to give up on old ways of doing things, let alone try new ones. Disagreement is the antidote to groupthink. We’re at our most imaginative when we’re out of sync. There’s no better time than childhood to learn how to dish it out — and to take it.

Beyond the danger to free expression, this is a large part of the danger of political correctness and groupthink on campus.

13 comments on this post.
  1. FC:

    I didn’t expect the New York Times to publish an advertorial from the Argument Clinic.

  2. Raoul Ortega:

    Nobody expects the New York Times….. Oops, wrong sketch. Nevermind.

  3. Edward M. Grant:

    You don’t get innovation when people shriek and run to their safe space whenever someone disagrees with them?!?!? Wow, who could possibly have guessed?

  4. ken anthony:

    You’re welcome!

  5. pouncer:

    I do however reserve to right to walk away from an “argument” that consists of having my claims interrupted with contradictions of some other claim I’d given no reasonable indication of making.

    For example. “One possible source of the disparity between males and females in university STEM disciplines is that college age females may make the time-sensitive choice to bear children …”

    “But you conservatives HATE choice for women. It’s totally inconsistent of you to promote child bearing choices but restrict family planning choices. Hatefully shutting down abortion clinics and forcing patients to view sonograms doesn’t do ANYTHING to help the gender imbalance in STEM. “

  6. McGehee:

    So you’re saying purple cars are morally superior to orange daffodils? Typical!!!

    (borrowed, with only slight exaggeration, from a troll on another website)

  7. Rick C:

    Great, now mediocre companies are going to misunderstand this and insist on conflicts. “We have to argue so we’ll do better.”

  8. Karl Hallowell:

    I’m pretty sure conflict is baked in already.

    “That was Rick C’s project. Why do you ask?” *innocent look*

  9. Curt Thomson:

    Extremely unlikely. The number one buzzword in corporate America for at least the last 2-3 years has been “collaboration”. At this point they can be considered akin to a dog with a bone; they won’t give it up no matter what. At least until something “better” comes along.

  10. wodun:

    But it is so much easier if everyone just agrees and since that isn’t likely to happen, we need someone in charge who can just impose the correct course of action for the good of the people. Oh wait, that was the argument from the NYT for 2008-2016. It almost saw an extension but Hillary lost.

    Debate is good but the NYT pushing a story defending it, free speech, anything regarding the constitution, or pretty much anything else is only relevant to how they can advance progressive marxism in our country.

  11. Edward M. Grant:

    Debate is only good when conservatives are in charge. Debate is bad when liberals are in charge.

    Just as free speech is good when liberals are trying to gain power, but bad when liberals have power.

  12. Karl Hallowell:

    Debate is good but the NYT pushing a story defending it, free speech, anything regarding the constitution, or pretty much anything else is only relevant to how they can advance progressive marxism in our country.

    Unfortunately, that’s how a lot of people view rights. They only care when their interests are threatened. The other side of that coin is that when someone starts trampling rights on a large scale, the above type will frequently find their interests threatened.

  13. peterh:

    There’s a difference between debate and low down argument. In debate there are rules. You can attack an idea on the merits, but attacks on the person are out.