Have you ever been faced with a problem and, in an attempt to solve it, shared ideas only to have your ideas shot down by everyone in the room? Have you ever left a meeting where nothing was decided because every idea presented was immediately dismissed as wrong, too difficult, or impossible? Maybe you’ve been guilty of this yourself.
The Devil has too many advocates.
There are plenty of people who can tell you why something can’t work, why it won’t work, and why you shouldn’t even try. The reason there are so many Devil’s advocates is that it’s easy to pick an idea apart. What’s more difficult, and more useful, is discovering ways in which something can work.
The Devil has his advocates; the Angel’s need more.
How Can We?
Instead of trying to identify and discover the reasons an idea won’t work, ask yourself this question, “How could we make this idea work?”Instead of reflexively shooting it down, assume that the idea has merit and that it’s worth pursuing. Let it live for a bit.
What would you do if you really wanted the idea to work? The Angel’s advocate would spend time finding ways to make the idea work, not criticizing it.
How could the idea be improved? A lot of ideas as presented aren’t quite good enough; they could stand some improving. Eliminating the idea and shooting it down doesn’t improve it.
Instead of eliminating ideas, illuminate them.
Think of all the ways that an idea might be made better. Instead of saying “but,” and listing all the negatives, say “and, we can also,” and list all the ways the idea can be made stronger. The Angel’s advocate accepts the idea and tries to find ways to improve it.
If you’re going to make improvements and solve problems you’re going to have to try something. Generating a lot of ideas is the starting point. Playing Devil’s advocate and shooting down every idea as it is presented eliminates ideas and makes solving your problems a longer, more painful process.
Play the Angel’s advocate. Support the discussion of ideas, even harebrained ideas, and explore how those ideas might be put to use in your business. Illuminate the ideas by adding other ideas to them, making them even more powerful and more likely to be executed. When someone steps up and suggests that they’re going to play the Devil’s advocate, allow them to have their say, but then respond by saying, “Okay, now I’m going to play the Angel’s advocate.”
If you’re in leadership or management take this idea a lot further than I have here. Make it your mission to bring ideas forward and nurture them.
Why is it so easy to play the Devil’s advocate?
How can you play the Angels advocate?
How do you protect ideas from being dismissed too soon, before they are fully explored?
How do you add to ideas, making sure there is strong as they can be, instead of allowing them to be pushed aside?