We all have one….and it is usually one….the individual in the group that finds distinction by being the contrarian voice in the discussion. And while the investigation of opposition and a full 360-degree view of a topic is essential to good decision-making, in the social setting of a committee or board meeting, such a voice can choke the momentum and potential emergence of innovative ideas.
The contrarian comes with various labels: devil’s advocate, outlier, “Debbie Downer”, minority voice, voice of experience, or party pooper. How does a leader allow this voice to be heard and considered, while keeping momentum and energy alive that can lead to emergent innovation?
One way of handling this voice is to determine at the start of any meeting that you will have a “parking lot” to capture some ideas that are important to consider, but might prevent the conversation from exploring possibilities. Another approach is to take that “outlier” power away from any one individual, and ask everyone to give one (and only one) reason something might not work, and then, continue to explore new possibilities.
In an ideal world of exploring innovative ideas, the role of the devil’s advocate can be a prophetic voice that is helpful in a 360 exploration of an idea. The trouble is we don’t always know the motives of that voice, and in a social setting such as a volunteer committee structure, it is difficult to highlight one comment, and diminish another. However, for the momentum needed for innovation to take place, it is helpful to have a strategy in place to keep good ideas and good energy flowing.