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21 October 2005


Guy Sisler

Do not allow Mr. Kelly’s negative view of the role of the devil’s advocate sway your belief in the value of the devil's advocate in organizational learning. The role of the devil’s advocate in challenging our mental model of how we view the world is essential in innovation. A healthy challenge process causes all involved parties to reassess their view of the world, this is essential in assuring that our vision and the mental models that it is based on is correct for our environment. Innovation for the sake of innovation is a dangerous path to go down. Creating such a single focus within an organization. Misaligned mental models prevent members of the organization from developing a true understanding and appreciation for the system. Optimization of the system cannot be achieved by optimization of its parts, in this case innovation. A couple of companies, that come to mind, that have suffered the consequences of a narrow organizational focus on innovation are Polaroid and Wang. Both of these companies focused their efforts on innovation, to the exclusion of all the other necessary functions in the organization. Yes, they were successful for awhile but their failure to understand the system or the primacy of the whole lead to their eventual demise.

In reading the article “The 10 Faces of Innovation” in which Mr. Kelly expressed is disdain for the role of the devils advocate, I came to the conclusion that it is not the role of the devils advocate that he dislikes. But, rather the utilization of the devil's advocate role as an excuse for poor interaction skills. The value of constructive criticism is essential in the development of innovation; the vitriolic communication that Mr. Kelly describes in the article can most certainly be detrimental to the innovation process. Mr. Kelly’s focus should not be the elimination of the role of the devil’s advocate in constructive criticism but rather the building of effective communication skills within the organization.

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