Our team frequently brainstorms as a group to arrive at solutions for our clients. Like many organizations, we find these creative sessions valuable because it allows everyone to contribute their experience, viewpoints, and ideas for the greater good. And after we’ve come up with one (if not more!) idea, we add one final step: we have someone on the team act as a naysayer and pick the solution apart, finding all the flaws and negatives with our proposed solution. We always strive to have a naysayer on our team, and you should too. Here’s why.

It Prevents Groupthink
Groupthink: a pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent, and conformity to group values and ethics (Merriam-Webster)

Groupthink is the dysfunctional decision-making that occurs from the desire to maintain harmony or conformity, and it’s the last thing that anyone on our team wants to occur. We bring our team together to come up with more ideas, not to reduce the creativity when it comes to creating a solution for clients. The last thing we need are yes-men and a naysayer prevents this. It’s the naysayer’s job to purposely offer a contrary viewpoint or present negative opinions on the subject at hand. The comments from a naysayer will frequently result in the generation of fresh ideas (see the next point).

It Sparks Contrary and Unexpected Ideas
We had a client whose medical device product is used to prevent hair loss from chemotherapy treatments. This device is worn on the scalp in sessions that can last over two hours. The experience of wearing the device is uncomfortable due to extreme coldness felt during the first 15-20 minutes of the session. We were tasked with creating a VR experience for users of this device to help distract them while they were undergoing the treatment.

Immediately, our group initially suggested creating a VR video of a warm and relaxing experience where the patient could enjoy the sounds and views of a tropical beach. This would definitely distract them from the coldness they would feel. And then one of our team members spoke up and asked “Why not embrace the cold? Why not work with it?”

If the patient was going to be cold and we embraced the coldness that they would be feeling instead of fighting it, we could create a more immersive VR experience. New ideas such as skiing down the face of a mountain or driving a sled dog team across the snowy landscape came forth, ideas that hadn’t even been considered before when the meeting began.

It Creates Stronger Solutions
It’s once a tentative solution is proposed that a naysayer can truly show their value. At our agency, it’s their job to pick the proposed solution apart and find all the flaws. And if the proposed solution is an extremely exciting or ambitious one, it’s the naysayer’s job to make sure that the team has answers for the hard questions surrounding the solution. The team needs to be able to answer questions such as:

  • Can the client afford our proposed solution?
  • Does our solution actually solve the client’s issue?
  • Can we implement the solution within the client’s desired timeline?
  • What barriers would cause our solution to fail?

A naysayer can pick apart the answer, highlighting any weaknesses in the proposed solution. These weaknesses or arguments are ones that clients themselves may bring up when the proposed solution is presented to them. And if the team is able to come up with solutions to these weaknesses or concerns, it will result in a stronger solution for the clients.

Hopefully you’ve realized the value of having a naysayer in your group. Their presence kills knee-jerk solutions, forces the team to be more creative, and can create more thorough results. I’ve embraced my role as our resident naysayer, and the results—internally and for our clients—have been substantial. If your organization could use a burst of creativity, perhaps it’s time to add a naysayer to your team.

Cheng Lee

Cheng loves a good story, animals with derp faces, and woodworking. Think you’re as awesome as Cheng? Find out by sending him your best pieces of trivia.