VP of Devil’s Advocacy

It’s a little known secret that the best time to scour Tech Crunch for content that’s actually worth reading is during the weekend. There’s not a lot of “real tech news” going on during the weekend so you’re more likely to run into a thought-provoking post. I found this one about three weeks ago:

The VP of Devil’s Advocacy

Though I resent MG sinking as low as using quotes from a disappointing zombie movie as the “hook” for the story, the gist in compelling nonetheless: often times the biggest product catastrophes/flops seem almost “bound to happen” to the common man. At least in retrospect. Which then begs the question: how come these companies, with all the amazing resources at their disposal, keep making these mistakes?

Answers to this question often leads back to a dysfunctional decision-making process, stemming from very human pitfalls such as groupthink and being trapped in the wrong paradigm.

MG’s advocating for adopting similar lessons to the ones implemented by Israeli intelligence after the ’73 war and creating an official position of “VP of Devil’s Advocacy” – only if a product can withstand all the honest feedback and worst case scenarios prevented by this person – it is allowed to launch. This can also be tied to addressing Lencioni’s 2nd team dysfunction – fear of conflict – head on, by appointing a person responsible for creating (healthy) conflict.

But having someone in that role full time requires scale and organizational maturity that many companies don’t posses. The good news is that there are smaller structural investments that can be made in order to make the decision making process less error-prone on these fronts. A lighter-weight more commonly used variation of this concept is the formation of Red Teams. Red teams don’t necessarily have to exist on a permanent basis, they can be formed ad-hoc whenever a big decision with strategic significance needs to be made.

Do you have a good example of using a red-team-like structure in Tech effectively?


VP of Devil’s Advocacy

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