Keep Debates Productive With 'Plussing'

Keeping a debate or argument productive isn't easy. When emotions are running high and you're defending (or attacking) an idea, it's easy to get off track. It's not impossible to manage, and as 99u points out, the film studio Pixar uses a structured conflict technique they call "plussing" to keep things on the level.

Photo by Bex Walton.

The idea of structured conflict isn't new. Workplaces ranging from Pixar to Xerox have used it for years, but it's not always easy to keep these debates productive. To keeps things moving forward at Xerox, for instance, criticism is kept intellectual naturally because the group doesn't permit character attacks. At Pixar, however, the fights are kept productive with what they call "plussing":

At Pixar, the animators have developed a technique that helps keep the fighting productive and intellectual. They call it "plussing." As people criticise the work under review, that criticism must always contain a new idea or a suggestion for strengthening the original idea — it must contain a "plus." Without plussing, their morning crit sessions can get pretty negative and emotionally draining. With plussing, the same meetings are imbued with a positive tone and a direct connection between criticism and newer or better ideas for their work. The meetings still feel like a fight, but they feel like the healthy, respectful fights that keep couples, creative teams, and ideas growing and changing for the better.

It's a pretty simple system, and "plussing" works well for everyone involved. When you're criticising an idea and not providing an alternative solution or a means to strengthen the original idea, you're not really helping the situation. With "plussing", everyone on the team is forced to contribute to the argument and make the idea better. It seems like this method could be helpful in all types of debates you might find yourself in, both in and out of the workplace.

Why Fighting For Our Ideas Makes Them Better [99u]


    Xerox's technique - no ad hominem - should be in practice by everyone, everywhere.

    Pixar's technique sounds great, but it can certainly be difficult. I don't think I'm sufficiently creative to pull it off, how do they do it?

    we do it all the time in research. We phrase criticisms by saying "You should try this instead..." or "Have you considered doing this as well....."

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