August 9, 2011
Liz published this at 7:47 am
We All Need A Check on Our Thinking
We’re in a meeting. A problem gets set on the table. We start to brainstorm solutions. Ideas are forming. You find one that seems to have potential. It looks to be simple, timely, and meaningful. Just as you’re sketching it out, someone who’s been listening jumps in before your thought’s even finished to say, “Let me play Devil’s Advocate … ”
Once upon a time — in the 16th Century — the role of Devil’s Advocate was an appointment with a specific purpose to test the argument of elevating a person’s life to sainthood.
Today, we flattened the idea, stretched the usage, and made it all but frivolous. As Tim Sanders so aptly describes …
Today, we’ve taken this to the extreme. When someone at work has a new idea about a product or a process, we take on the role of devil’s advocate before they’ve even expressed half the idea. We treat them like idiots, posing objections to them in a tone of voice that suggests, “have you even considered the obvious?” We do the same thing at home. Our kid has an idea for a business and we go into skeptic mode, shooting down her enthusiasm before the food hits the table. In every situation, we don’t improve the way the ideator thinks. Research suggests that only authentic dissent (You truly think it’s a bad idea) can provoke a better idea. When you argue for the sake of argument, you merely bolster the ideator’s conviction as well as her feelings that she’s all alone on this one.
I’m convinced that the Devil’s Advocate takes more value than he or she adds.
Why a Guardian Angel Adds More Value Than a Devil’s Advocate
When you pose your next idea, would you rather have a Guardian Angel or a Devil’s Advocate?
That might seem a clever turn of a phrase, but it’s more than that. The difference is striking. One works to win an argument. The works to contribute. Take a look at the two.
A Devil’s Advocate …
The position of Devil’s Advocate is inherently negative. The role is to find holes in the proposed idea. Arguing for the sake of arguing easily can degrade into arguing for inconsequential details or arguing to show how clever the person presenting the argument can be.
- Psychologically sits on the opposite side of the table.
- Argues against whatever has been proposed.
- Asks questions to focus on risks and problems.
- Bears no responsibility for finding answers to those questions.
- Has a vested reason to ignore or discount valid counter-arguments.
The Devil’s Advocate breaks ideas. No value is added.
A Guardian Angel …
The position of Guardian Angel is inherently positive. The role is to find and fill holes in the proposed idea. Arguing for the possibility of what might work, while checking for risk, leads to dialogue that builds and molds ideas into useful realities.
- Psychologically sits on the same side of the table.
- Argues for the goal or outcome the idea proposes to meet.
- Asks questions to focus on meaningful solutions with low risk.
- Bears responsibility for finding answers to those questions as part of the team.
- Has a vested reason to build on the idea or propose a better one.
The Guardian Angel strengthens ideas by adding value to them.
A Devil’s Advocate wants to save the business from harm. He or she deconstructs to identify anything that might go wrong. The quest is to stop a problem before something is lost.
A Guardian Angel wants to meet and exceed the dreams of the business and the customers. He or she deconstructs to find and fix the anything that might go wrong. It’s a quest to invent a new solution so that new ground can be won.
The Guardian Angel adds value. A Devil’s Advocate tries to ensure none is lost.
Which would you rather have on your team?
–ME “Liz” Strauss
Work with Liz on your business!!