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POPin Blog

Playing the Devil

Or … How including a Devil’s Advocate can help your company be more innovative We’ve written several blogs about the power of positive thinking and the need for mavericks and risk takers. Yes, we’d like to think we’re a force of good in this crazy business world. Afterall, you’d be hard pressed to find a tool as effective as PoPin for delivering hard-won collaborative results. But it’s hard to resist an opportunity to play the bad guy. Blame it on Halloween and the black moon because we’re about to play the devil. Did you know, faithful reader, that there might possibly be some big value in including a devil’s advocate on your team? In fact, there have been oodles of research into thousands of innovation efforts that has found having a devil’s advocate that is responsible for raising tough questions in a constructive way is critical for success. The theory goes something like this: if you want innovation, you must have some version of a devil’s advocate—both to head off problems and to bring out the best efforts of the organization. Because no one wants a room full of ‘yes men’ or Group Thinkers. A really effective devil’s advocate (DA) frames the most important (and often difficult) questions before your change initiative (or idea/innovation) begins. The intent is to have your DA guide the process, and make sure the uncertainties are visited along the way. So, how can you implement a really good DA?
  1. Commit.

We say that a lot, but yes, bite the proverbial bullet and commit. Everyone has to agree at what point the DA will be involved, whether insiders or outsiders will play the role, and how the role will play out. Set ground rules and be sure that the processes are specified in detail, too.

  1. Set Goals.

Sometimes just the thought of playing the bad guy can make even the meek mightier (think power trip). So that’s why you’ve got to be clear about your DA goals. It can’t be about killing projects or pointing out weaknesses. Why? Imagine the anarchy! Well, no, that’s an exaggeration. But left without goals, the process becomes a game of gotcha. Some people will win, but others will lose. And frankly, so does the process as a whole.

Instead, the DA has to think in terms of reducing uncertainty and about learning. The DA helps bring to the surface issues that might otherwise be ignored. It ensures that issues, once raised, are addressed and not just glossed over as a project gains momentum. Everyone can get behind those goals.