The world needs wild ideas. But every wild idea faces a road of obstacles to bring it to life. The hard work comes after the brainstorming rumpus when you have to bring others along.
Few of these obstacles are as rough as the devil’s advocate. IDEO founder Tom Kelley once called the devil’s advocate the single greatest threat to innovation:
“Devil’s advocates remove themselves from the equation and sidestep individual responsibility for the verbal attack. But before they’re done, they’ve torched your fledgling concept…
“What’s truly astonishing is how much punch is packed into that simple phrase. In fact, the devil’s advocate may be the biggest innovation killer in America today. What makes this negative persona so dangerous is that it is such a subtle threat…
“Because a devil’s advocate encourages idea wreckers to assume the most negative possible perspective, one that sees only the downside, the problems, the disasters-in-waiting. Once those floodgates open, they can drown a new initiative in negativity.”
This is exactly the uphill battle that Maurice Sendak faced with “Where the Wild Things Are”. When it was published in 1963, the book was hated by critics and banned in libraries. Wild ideas always attract naysayers. But wild ideas are the ones that make a dent. “Where the Wild Things Are” is one of the most awarded and influential children’s books in history.
Not all wild ideas are winners. And critical thought is essential to make ideas stronger. But too often wild ideas are smothered or diluted before they’ve really had a chance.
(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post. I’ll pick one comment by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)