How many times have you been in a meeting and someone says those words: “Can I play the devil’s advocate for a minute?”
What certainly follows is a litany of reasons why something won’t work, or why it’s a bad idea or why that grain of innovative thinking needs to be squashed flat before it has a chance of working.
And you can’t be mad at people like this, right? After all, it wasn’t them. They aren’t pessimistic, idea-killin’ pontificators of doom. No, no – it was just the devil. By using the ol’ devil’s advocate approach, people have granted themselves criticism-whiner immunity. They claim to be among your staunch supporters; they hear what you’re saying; they believe in you; they thrive on innovation; but, they “owe it to the cause” to play the devil’s advocate.
I say the next time someone says, “Can I play the devil’s advocate?” you say “No!” And not just no, but “hell No!” (Use “hell” ‘cause the devil is familiar with that phrase.)
Instead, why not be an “angel’s advocate?” When’s the last time you heard somebody say that? “Excuse me, but let me play the angel’s advocate for a minute.” Think of the possibilities – someone who looks at the possibilities and not the obstacles. Someone who looks for supporting facts and rationale. Someone who is a champion of what’s possible instead of what’s not. A protector of ideas, a nurturer and a steadfast enemy of the devil.
Innovation and creativity are the cornerstones of success, and more and more businesses need innovative thinking and idea development to survive. Building a culture that fosters innovation and creative problem solving takes an open-minded approach and one that is built with eternal optimism.
Owners and managers have to keep a keen eye on deterrents to innovation. You have to look for the opportunity to inspire, create and implement innovative thinking. My guess is this isn’t the first time you’ve heard this, either. But how do you do it? What can you do to help the creative cause? Here are a couple of ideas.
1. Make it a rule in meetings that no “devil’s advocates” are allowed. Only discuss the possibilities. When obstacles or negative rationales come to light, focus the discussion on how you will overcome them and don’t use them as reasons the idea won’t work.
2. If you want to entertain the philosophies and perspectives of the devil, then insist afterward that the individual should also play the role of the angel’s advocate. If he can walk in the shoes of the devil, he can walk like the angel, too.
3. Just for fun, next time you’re in a discussion, spring this new phrase on ‘em and see what happens: “If I may, let me play the angel’s advocate for a minute.”
To hell with the devil. Have a great day!