The week before Chinese New Year I led a dialog session at HP Malaysia. The session was loosely based on the picture below which I took while visiting a friend's company that does a lot of creative branding work.
At first glance I think most of us can identify with all or most of the phrases on the whiteboard. In fact we might be guilty of actually saying one or more of those phrases at some point in time.
If you looked deeper into those "killer phrases" you can actually group them into 4 main groups and one of the groups is known as the Devil's Advocate. Hiding behind the Devil's Advocate persona you will hear people say things like:
"… let me be the devil's advocate …"
"I can give you five reasons off the top of my head why this isn't going to work"
"Yes, but …"
"Hah? That's stupid …"
"Can meh? …"
The Devil's Advocate persona most often rears its ugly head during ideation sessions. Don't get me wrong, critical thinking is needed but not when an idea is at its infancy. Think about it - if ideas are the source of innovation, then ideas are actually like seeds for innovation. If every seed gets killed off even before they see the light of day, then there will be no innovation! Instead of killing these seeds (i.e. innovation) right off the bat, let them grow a little and see where they go.
A good way to let an idea grow a little is to do quick, cheap and dirty prototypes. These prototypes can be sketches, plasticine models or they can take on any other shape or form as long as they let you make your ideas tangible and let you test them out. Prototyping should always be about testing your ideas out, seeing what parts of your idea work, what parts don't work and how it can be improved. Prototyping should never be about putting all the polish and shine on an idea or making it look good or getting it to a close approximation of the final product. It should not be done to be exhibited at a stage gate/approval meeting where "higher ups", who probably know zilch about your project anyway, try to determine the goodness of your project and whether or not to fund it. So when you think ‘prototype’, always think iterative, quick, cheap and dirty.
In any case I digress… but I do want to end with a quote from a very wise man whose words speak against the devil's advocates of the world:
"To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk." - Thomas A. Edison