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Northwestern University and the Kellogg School of Management today announced an innovative new research center to promote constructive discourse in today's increasingly polarized world. The Center for Enlightened Disagreement, to be housed at Kellogg, will bring together top academics and leading thinkers to conduct research, identify best practices and train students and leaders on how to engage across difference and harness the power of diverse perspectives.

From the political arena to the business world to higher education, opposing ideas drive innovation and change, force critical thinking and reveal untapped solutions to pressing problems. Yet growing divisions and deepening entrenchment have made it more challenging than ever to participate in constructive discussion and debate. In the business realm, managers and leaders feel ill-equipped to deal with divisive issues in the workplace and simply lack the training to navigate such complex situations. 

“Kellogg and Northwestern are deeply committed to addressing the growing barriers to discourse that hinder our progress as a society, not by seeking to eliminate disagreement but by embracing it as a virtue,” said Kellogg Dean Francesca Cornelli. “Kellogg faculty have for decades been driving advances in conflict resolution, negotiation and how to bridge ideological divides. Now is the time to expand this work, which has never been more essential.”

“Disagreement is the lifeblood of innovation, but it can run amok. We founded the Center to push people, organizations and societies to harness the power of disagreement while minimizing its perils.”
Eli Finkel
Co-Director, Center for Enlightened Disagreement

The Center will be co-directed by Nour Kteily, professor of management and organizations and co-director of Kellogg’s Dispute Resolution Research Center, and Eli Finkel, professor of management and organizations at Kellogg, and professor of psychology and Morton O. Schapiro Institute for Policy Research Faculty Fellow at Northwestern. It will expand extensive Kellogg research on methods for promoting dialogue among those with different perspectives and motivations.

From this foundation, the Center’s activities will be built around four pillars: research, outreach, curriculum and discussion. The schools' vision is for the Center to become a worldwide destination and forum of conversation around the subject of disagreement, creating a convening space for voices across disciplines, industries and ideologies. The goal is to continue to push the frontier of research and grow the Center so that it may host conferences, debates and prominent fellows-in-residence who will advance the Center’s efforts.

“Our nation is threatened today by the politics of identity and persistent divisions based on region, class, religion and educational attainment,” said Northwestern President Michael H. Schill. “We increasingly lack the capacity to understand each other and to empathize with people who seem not to be like us. Solving such problems is what higher education institutions should be about. Northwestern and Kellogg are well-equipped to create models for engagement across difference.”

The Center’s cornerstone will be a research program to identify strategies and policies that foster productive dialogue across diverse perspectives to drive successful outcomes. Tapping Kellogg’s deep connection to the business world, Center faculty will partner with companies and other organizations to test the effectiveness of these ideas in real-world contexts. Over time, the Center will consult with government officials and policymakers, as well as CEOs and other organizational leaders seeking advice on how to effectively maneuver – and embrace – a diversity of opinions.  

“Any healthy group, organization or society requires disagreement. That’s how we home in on the best and most rigorous ideas.”
Nour Kteily
Co-Director, Center for Enlightened Disagreement

Insights emerging from the Center’s work will be used in the classroom to train both undergraduate and graduate students on methods for better understanding the perspectives and motivations of others. The goal is to enhance the undergraduate and graduate business curriculum to teach leaders how to integrate diverse opinions toward organizational progress and success, and how to navigate conflict and foster inclusivity in the workplace.

“Disagreement is the lifeblood of innovation, but it can run amok," said Center co-director Eli Finkel. “We founded the Center to push people, organizations and societies to harness the power of disagreement while minimizing its perils.”

Nour Kteily, Center co-director added, “Any healthy group, organization or society requires disagreement. That’s how we home in on the best and most rigorous ideas. Too often, though, we get lost in caricaturing and alienating those who disagree with us, spurning the opportunity to learn and benefit from our differences in perspectives. The Center for Enlightened Disagreement will serve as a hub for developing and disseminating cutting-edge research and evidence-backed practical tools to help us do better.”

With the launch of the Center for Enlightened Disagreement, Kellogg and Northwestern seek to improve the ability – across business, politics, higher education and other realms – to engage across difference toward the betterment of society.

Explore the research: Check out Kellogg Insight’s special collection on Enlightened Disagreement, featuring research from Professor Kteily, Professor Finkel and other Kellogg faculty