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Devils Advocate

The team member who challenges every idea on the table.

The nuts and bolts: An effective devil’s advocate frames the most important questions that must be addressed before a disruptive innovation is attempted at scale. The advocate also oversees the process, ensuring that the appropriate level of uncertainty is eliminated at each stage.

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Have you ever presented a design or concept to your team and found yourself butting heads with one person in particular who seems to challenge every detail and counters every argument? Seems there’s always a person on a team that takes up the role of Devil’s Advocate, a term which has its origins, believe it or not, in the Catholic Church.

A Devil’s Advocate isn’t necessarily a bad thing, even if he may be difficult at times. He might just be looking for better answers. Don’t necessarily blow off his feedback, look at where he exposes holes in your reasoning and make sure you’re not overlooking valuable feedback. Sure, positive validation is great to hear and a boon to one’s ego. But constructive, negative feedback can prevent us from getting caught up in too much self-aggrandizing, which can blind us to flaws in our products or our thinking. Negative feedback may be disheartening to hear, but it shouldn’t cause you to throw in the towel. Rather, it should push you to become better.

By the same token, however, you’ll want to make sure you’re not just dealing with a blowhard with an ax to grind, who’s arguing for the sake of arguing. You want to seek out a critic who has experience in your space, who has the educated opinion to help you ferret out problems with your product. In other words, you’ll want to seek out someone who’s actually trying to make you better rather than trying to lord it over you.

Here are three considerations when bringing in a Devil’s Advocate:

  1. Rather than hoping that critical issues would arise organically, you must commit to an intentional method. And this is something you must do right away. Everyone must agree on when a devil’s advocate will be used, whether the position will be played by insiders or outsiders, and how the role will be performed.
  2. The objective of devil’s advocacy must be well defined. It can’t be about sabotaging initiatives or even spotting faults. Otherwise, the procedure devolves into a catch-up game.
  3. Rather than becoming an inquisition at the conclusion, the devil’s advocate should be useful throughout the innovation process.

Data and evidence is a good way to combat an overly argumentative devil’s advocate. This template gives you the ability to validate product interest so you can present it to your office’s contrarian. 

Validate Product Interest Test

Measure demand and gather gut reactions to your product from real consumers all before committing to an expensive launch.

Use this template for:

  • Shopping Insights
  • Be able to shut down a Devil’s Advocate with data
  • Be confident your ideas are ready to be pursued
Use Template

Only a tiny number of the app concepts ever make it to market, therefore the ability to halt them at the proper moment is critical. People become emotionally invested in their initiatives, and when businesses regard the completion of a project as a failure it sours participants.

The devil’s advocate makes it simple to put initiatives on hold by focusing on lowering uncertainty—rather than declaring them dead—until the appropriate degree of confidence is achieved.