Creative Abrasion – Does chafing payoff?

“Creative Abrasion” is a hiring technique used by Jerry Hirshberg when starting Nissan Design International, Nissan’s Design Studio based in California. This philosophy follows that you hire people in pairs, each with clashing world views and strong character. While at first glance this team structure is uncomfortable and risky, Nissan has had much success leading me to ponder the pros and cons of this hiring technique.


Encourages creativity and diversity – When both parties do not agree on a decision they must be creative to compromise. Each side of a pairing has different world views and thus have diverse outlooks causing each half to consider (and possibly reject) new directions and concepts. If frustrated each team member may also make radical suggestions to prove a point which may in turn spark marvelous ideas.

Creates a Collaborative Work Environment – This philosophy places emphasis on team work and collaboration within and outside of your pairing. With such an open culture of sharing and working together you have a greater chance of using cross-functional ideas, just because one pair was unable to incorporate an idea doesn’t mean it won’t prove a solution for another.

Stimulates Passion – When constantly at odds with your partner one is forced to fight for your own ideas sparking passion as well as an articulate debater.


Risk of Conflict – If the pair does not get along you may have two team members who are not working productively due to an inability to agree which could put a start up at risk of losing money and not succeeding.

Focuses on the Negative – While most companies promote positivity and inspire incident-free collaboration between employees, creative abrasion relies on the negative emotions that come from believing the person you are working with is utterly wrong. Such emotions may prove detrimental to the work place environment stifling growth.

I think being in an atmosphere of creative abrasion would be challenging, frustrating, and oh so much fun. I regard diversity as a team necessity and creative abrasion forces out differences in opinion, view, and experience. The more diverse the group the more angles and colors of an issue you are able to consider. I want to be on a team that sees the top of telephone poles, a cookie jar, and rotten eggs, not just a black dot on the board.

2 Responses to “Creative Abrasion – Does chafing payoff?”
  1. maybe you and i are a creative abrasion team because i would rather be on someone’s team that sees the red dot and we move on to the next question! i agree that this technic does have merit and perhaps more merit if you consider that fact that the Nissan manager was forth coming that this was how he wanted things done. That way he eliminates from the start those that don’t want to work in a creative abrasion environment. I still am sticking to the idea that the two people have to have some sort of respect for each other. I know I would get a little annoyed if I had to argue with someone that I thought was a moron every day at work.

  2. I agree with your opinion of a creative abrasion team – I think it would be a lot of fun, while also being a significant challenge. I think there are a few key requirements when establishing an atmosphere of creative abrasion, the #1 most important being respect for your teammate. If the mutal respect doesn’t exist, the possibilities of creating innovative ideas are limited – most of the time would be spent on arguing your own position rather than trying to see the issue from your teammates’ viewpoint. If a mutual respect exists, however, my opinion is that the creative abrasion team will have an advantage over any “normal” team.

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