Tim Sanders, in his post, “The problem with devil’s advocates” highlights an important feature of an idea generating, change driving organizational culture: few devil’s advocates.
With one visit to a work group I could tell you if they are capable of driving change or if they are stuck. One of the first things I look for is the presence of devil’s advocates. One or a few devil’s advocates in the peer ranks is dangerous. A boss that’ a devil’s advocate is deadly.
Working with a large group, teaching and modeling driving change, we’ve worked on the problem of devil’s advocates, but we’ve gone it at it a different way. Rather than finding the devil’s advocates and telling them to stop it, we offer a replacement behavior to take up the time they would have spent punching holes in the new idea.
Sander’s calls it “Yes, and…” We call it “Yes, if…” We suggest to people in the meetings that if they have an objection to the idea, that they phrase their objection in a “Yes, if…” statement.
The “Yes, if…” is powerful because it forces the typical devil’s advocate to stop dwelling on whether or not the idea will ever work (in their opinion – not very helpful) and instead forces them to say where they see an obstacle to the idea working, e.g., “We can put in that new equipment if we can get the building managers to agree to own the equipment after it is installed.”
That’s helpful information the person or team implementing the idea needs and the whole group rides along together toward the change. It’s great to watch a good, “Yes, if…” propel an idea forward.
So try being an idea collaborator this week. Try saying, “Yes, if…” a lot. See what happens.