We were sitting in a team meeting right in the middle of the Krypton project, and we had some big decisions to make.
As we discussed scenarios, someone on the team spoke up: “Well, to play devil’s advocate…”
Seth stepped in before the sentence could go on, “The devil doesn’t need an advocate, thank you. The devil is doing just fine.”
The comment letting us all reeling a bit, but then Seth explained what he meant. It was one of the most powerful lessons I would learn about how to come prepared and argue a valuable point in a meeting.
Playing the devil’s advocate is another way of saying, “Here’s a worst case scenario that I’m not ready to put my name behind, but just in case it changes our plans, here ya go.”
The devil doesn’t need an advocate, thank you. The devil is doing just fine. – Seth Godin
So what’s the alternative to being a meeting troll?
The alternative is show up to meetings prepared, with a well-informed viewpoint on the matter at hand.
Making a decision about whether to shut a project down? Show up with a well-thought-out argument for why that is not the best path forward. Rather than relying on an emotional appeal, do some calculations or hard research to support your case. Yes, opinion matters, but it’s more valuable when it’s backed up by data.
Coming together to brainstorm the strategic plan for the three months ahead? Put time in beforehand to think about what you would like to see the company accomplish. What are projects you’d like to see the team take on and what is the range of possible outcomes from each one? Most importantly, which outcome do you think is most likely to happen and why?
The devil’s advocate is a cheap escape from poor preparation. Anyone can sit in a meeting and come up with the worst possible scenario in response to other people’s ideas. But that doesn’t do anyone any good.
Your job is to be informed and have an opinion. Otherwise, 1) why are you in the meeting? and 2) why discourage your counterparts just because you didn’t do your homework?
Having an argument against an idea is just fine. But don’t blame it on the devil. Own it.
Constructive conflict builds better teams and better teams build better organizations. That can start with you, but not if you’re playing devil’s advocate.