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The devil’s cute advocate

There are two ways to play the devil’s advocate game: the serious way and the cute way.

The cute way goes like this: Think of an objection to your idea. Be proud that you thought of that objection. Come up with some reply (mostly anything will do). Check the box and move on to the next objection.

The cute advocate is a low effort way of reassuring yourself that you’ve made some due diligence. It’s not so much meant to challenge your idea but more to soothe your conscience. It easily happens when you’re overly confident of your idea – which is when we tend to not take objections too seriously.

The serious way is very different. It’s a high intensity effort to question every little detail and make it your goal to spot even the tiniest of loopholes. You play the devil’s advocate with even more passion than you have for your own idea. You get joy out of crushing your idea. That’s why you don’t settle with your first reply. You keep on challenging it. Try to uncover contradictions. Find all the false assumptions …

The serious way can feel devastating. At times, you may feel like giving up because really, the devil’s advocate is right, your idea is just a huge pile of nonsense.

Which of course it isn’t.

Guess which of the two approaches leads to better ideas?

The players who prefer the cute version might appear to be more confident at times. And they might get away with it in the short run. But if you’re interested in making a difference, you might be better off if you didn’t try to be right but started to get it right instead.

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