Design great Tom Kelley once called the devil’s advocate the single greatest threat to innovation because a devil’s advocate encourages idea wreckers to assume the most negative possible perspective. Once those dangerous floodgates burst open, they can quickly drown a new initiative in negativity.
It’s true. Your devil’s advocate will introduce a bump or two into the smooth path of your fundraising and marketing groupthink. There’s just no way to avoid it.
But don’t despair — I’d argue that those bumps can be hugely important, and I’m in good company here:
“Decisions … are made well only if based on conflicting views, the dialogue between different points of view, the choice between different judgments,” management guru Peter Drucker writes in “The Effective Executive.”
Foe to friend
There’s no way to escape the occasional devil’s advocate as you move fundraising and marketing agendas forward. Here’s the approach that works best when the horns of a devil’s advocate emerge on one of our client organizations’ teams:
1. Open your arms and your mind. Despite the pain of facing a devil’s advocate, the product of the mash-up frequently is better than the original idea. Be proactive: Look back on previous sparring for the useful takeaways, and keep that value add in mind — even when you feel like screaming in frustration.
“I include [the devil’s advocates] early in the idea stage because they help produce a robust result,” says nonprofit consultant Doug Watson. “They also become the greatest salesperson for the idea as they see the other sides better than those who are just hesitant.”
2. Acknowledge the downside of conformity. You want to move quickly and smoothly to implement your idea or program, but you’ve seen that rushing to approval or release ends up a complete disaster or, at the very least, generates diminished results. The squeaky wheel can be your most valuable advisor. Listen up!