Carnegie Mellon University

Teaching Teams to Innovate: The Successful Transfer of Difference-Driven Inquiry from the Workplace to the Classroom

Author: Craig “CP” Moreau

Degree: Ph.D. in Rhetoric, Carnegie Mellon University, 2021

Teams that can leverage diverse perspectives demonstrate a powerful way to stimulate innovative ways of thinking and doing. Commonly, innovation is facilitated through toolsets informed by design-thinking, from techniques to facilitate brainstorming like mind-mapping and whiteboarding, to more advanced agile techniques like prototyping and user-testing. However, the use of these ideational tools to promote innovation often assumes high levels of team cohesion and productivity—dynamics that may not be safe to assume, especially in teams with high levels of diversity. Furthermore, when teams attempt to add depth or find alternatives to ideas already voiced, individuals often must find ways of resisting the formidable social forces of groupthink and entrenchment. One of the most powerful resources to counter those forces includes engaging in what scholars have named as substantive or productive conflict (Burnett, 1996; Cronin & Weingart, 2007).

This dissertation study takes a rhetorical approach to understanding how productive conflict can benefit teams seeking to innovate. Building from Flower’s (2016) working theory of Difference-Driven Inquiry—a process of deliberation that aims to voice difference and embrace conflict—this dissertation uses empirical methods to offer a descriptive account of, and a prescriptive pedagogy for, a model to help people embrace the generative aspects of conflict as they seek novel solutions to problems.
In broad terms, this dissertation contributes to technical and professional communication by observing, creating, and enhancing a novel pedagogy to help students and practitioners alike approach teamwork as a deliberative process that values difference as a rich source for rhetorical invention.

Keywords: teamwork, innovation, pedagogy