Forget VP of Devil’s Advocacy. Where’s your BS Filter?


There are a million reasons why a piece of innovation fails. In some cases, it’s great technology that just didn’t get the marketing gas it needed to make it mainstream. And sometimes, the product is just way ahead of its times. But most often, innovations fail because they just plain suck.

I was reading an article by MG Siegler on Techcrunch recently, and a particular quote struck a deep chord with me:

We’ve seen a lot of these launches in recent years. Microsoft’s Surface RT. Samsung’s Smart Watches. Google’s Nexus Q. Apple’s Maps. All great examples. Each was quite clearly a disaster waiting to happen to many on the outside. So why was it so hard for those on the inside, those closest to the projects, to see the obvious?

The answer, it seems, is that most of those people were likely too close to the projects to see what was right in front of them. They fell victim to group think, or worse, they started to rationalize their own bad projects.

Siegler goes on to talk about the role of VP of Devil’s Advocacy – a person who looks for obvious kinks and reasons for the product to fail. Kind of like a QA for strategy.

The only problem is, nobody likes a complainer. People have dismissed revolutionary ideas throughout history, because in their view it was pointless. And so, sooner or later, the Devil’s Advocate would be seen as a pessimist throwing negativity to the project – a hindrance that must be gotten rid of.

Unless you have daddy backing you from high up the chain, you can’t really have a devil’s advocate throwing daggers at your strategy. The VP of Devil’s Advocacy needs to be an integral part of the journey from ideas to execution. The only question is how!

Whip out your BS Filter

We are all born with our own personal Bullshit Filter. When you see a product with 300 awesome reviews on Amazon all saying the same thing, or read a romance novel about a vegan vampire and a bored werewolf, you can feel your BS Filters firing up. But for some strange reason, when we are swimming neck deep in a pool of our own awesomeness, our BS Filters tend to get turned off. And terrible things that should have been killed early tend to pass through approval cycles.

So how do you take a step back from your genius and lend a voice to your internal Devil’s Advocate?

Step back and take a whiff of perspective

Great ideas fall short when the team gets too focused on the code they write or buttons they churn, and forget the bigger picture of why that matters… Because, most often, the real world exists at least 5 inches above your desk.

Sometimes we need to take a few steps back and see why we do what we do

That’s why one of our biggest goals at was to let you shift from ground-level details to the birds’ eye-view, and back without losing your flow of thought.

Push till it breaks, then fix the weak spots

If you haven’t found at least a few points of failure in your idea, you haven’t thought it through enough. The best way to strengthen your initial idea is to first break it. Rope a few more brains into your thought process to rip apart your idea piece by piece, and build it over.

There’s this anecdote about how Steve Jobs dumped the first prototype of the iPod into a fish tank and showed air bubbles popping out to prove they could make the device smaller. While there is a good chance this story was made up in hind sight, it doesn’t undermine Jobs’ desire to push his creations till they broke.

Remember why you chose to not do the things you didn’t

If meeting room walls could speak, they’d tell you why the idea that seems pretty exciting now was struck off as rather foolish just a week ago. Unfortunately, walls don’t talk. Keeping up with why you chose to not go with one idea is about as important as knowing why you went with the other.

DIscussions let you exactly see why some ideas did not make it through

Save a bunch of external collaborators to jump in at the end

Sometimes it’s just impossible to overcome the bias to fall in love with your own genius. If you can afford to have external eyes playing on your ideas, you should save a couple of fresh pairs for the end.

Keeping your BS filter sharp and running may not be enough to ensure you always build something awesome. But at least when you don’t, it’ll make sure you aren’t delusional about it…