A creative network of the idea, by the idea, for the idea

Friday, April 24, 2009

The evil behind the Devil's advocate

You can tell a lot about the first few pages of a book. (And I'm not going all Gladwell's blink here)

The first page of the new book I am reading part of my 52on52, (a self imposed challenge to read 52 books in 52 weeks) is The Ten faces of innovation by Thomas Kelley and Jonathan Littman.

This is a revealing book about innovation as a driver of a company culture and the power behind the implementation of ideas.
We've all been there. The pivotal meeting where you push forward a new idea or proposal you're passionate about. A fast paced discussion leads to an unwelling of support that seems about to reach critical mass. And then, in one disastrous moment, your hopes are dashed when someone weights in with those fateful words: "Let me just play Devil's Advocate for a minute"

Having invoke the awesome protective power of that seemingly innocuous phrase, the speaker now feels entirely free to take potshots at your idea, and does so with complete impunity. Because they are not really your harsher critic. They are essentially saying. "the Devil made me do it." They are removing themselves from the equation and sidestepping individual responsibility for the verbal attack. But before they're done, they have torched your fledgling concept.

In fact the Devil's advocate may be the biggest innovation killer in America today. What makes this negative persona so dangerous is that is such a subtle threat.

Everyday thousands of great new ideas concepts and plans are nipped in the bud by Devil's advocates.

Why is this persona so damming? Because the devil's Advocate encourages idea wreckers to assume the most negative possible perspective, one that sees only the downside, the problems, the disaster in waiting. Once these floodgates open, they can drown a new initiative in negativity.
Innovation is the lifeblood of all organizations and the Devil's Advocate is toxic to your cause.

The Devil's Advocate seldom takes a real stand, preferring to tear down an idea with clever criticism, and often exhibiting the mean-spirited negativity associated with that role.

The Devil's advocate may never go away, but on a good day a true culture of innovation can keep him in his place. Or tell him to go to hell.
I have the feeling that I'll be sharing lots of thoughts from this book.


  1. Creativity

    99% of the time, in my experience, the hard part about creativity isn't coming up with something no one has ever thought of before. The hard part is actually executing the thing you've thought of.

    The devil doesn't need an advocate. The brave need supporters, not critics.

  2. I have to now read this book...I've always felt that, but could never quite articulate it in such a way...I've always felt compelled to listen after someone says, "let me be the devil's advocate for a minute..."