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"I have the feeling that I'll be sharing lots of thoughts from this book.
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.