We've all been there: the pivotal meeting in which you push forward a new idea or proposal you're passionate about. A fast-paced discussion leads to an upwelling of support that seems about to reach critical mass. And then in one disastrous moment, your hopes are dashed when someone weighs in with those fateful words: "Let me just play devil's advocate for a minute. . . ."
So starts an article by Tom Kelley, General Manager of Ideo, one of the hotter design shops around, in the latest isse of Fast Company. The problem isn't that the idea or proposal really was DOA - only that nobody else would dare mention it, it's that the self-proclaimed "devil's advocate" is the embodiment and catalyst for negativity: the destroyer of innovation that people need to cope more effectively with. At Ideo, they have developed a set of 10 other "personalities" that can be adopted by other members of the team to counteract the devil's advocate.
So when someone says, "Let me play devil's advocate for a minute" and starts to smother a fragile new idea, someone else in the room may be emboldened to speak up and say, "Let me be an anthropologist for a moment, because I personally have watched our customers suffering silently with this issue for months, and this new idea just might help them." And if that one voice gives courage to others, maybe someone else will add, "Let's think like an experimenter for a moment. We could prototype this idea in a week and get a sense of whether we're onto something good." The devil's advocate may never go away, but on a good day, the 10 personas can keep him in his place. Or tell him to go to hell.
And how many great social marketing programs and tactics get stopped dead in their tracks by that one person: too many in my experience. So let's adopt some other personnas in the meeting, or in the halls, when the devil raises that awful voice.