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No Sympathy For The Devil

January 10, 2011

When was the last time you offered an idea at a workplace meeting that didn’t raise some sort of objection or qualification from a co-worker? From “that won’t work” to “let me play devil’s advocate here,” there are a million roadblocks to getting a group to go along with your good idea. Sometimes the criticisms are valid. (After all, not all your ideas are good). But more often than not, someone is objecting to your point just to raise their profile in the group.

While there’s no silver bullet to outsmarting the devil’s advocate, there are a few techniques for sidestepping objections and engaging the rest of the group with your idea. Tom Kelly, one of the founders of the product design firm IDEO, offers a number of strategies in his book “The Ten Faces of Innovation.” Here are a few of his his role-centric ways of disarming your attacker:

  • Be the Cross-Pollinator - find an analogy from outside your company, your market and your world. New ideas always sound fishy. If you can show that what’s new in your world is a proven strategy in other environments, you can paint your opponent as unwilling to think outside the box.
  • Be the Experimenter - concede that you don’t know for sure your idea will work but that the path to the best solution seldom comes without trial and error. If you can explain why a negative outcome is manageable, you can focus on the rewards that come from planned trial and error.
  • Be the Caregiver - few people want to admit that they’re advocating against their customers’ best interests. If your explanation as to why your idea is good for your company isn’t getting traction, flip it. Explain why your idea’s good for the company AND good for your customers. You’ve just doubled the upside.

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