What is a Devil’s Advocate?

Cambridge dictionary tells us that a Devil’s Advocate is: Someone who pretends, in an argument or discussion, to be against an idea or plan that a lot of people support, in order to make people discuss and consider it in more detail.

Being a Devil’s Advocate with a purpose is not “devilish” at all. It can actually be the kindest, clearest, and most efficient way to decide if a new idea or approach is really worth pursuing. I often take on this role with my nonprofit clients, especially those clients who have limited (human and/or financial) resources. Before they expend those less-than-abundant resources, they need to consider the consequences, benefits, and alternatives.

Some Devil’s Advocate questions you can ask yourself and your colleagues include:

Is there a faster way to do this? A cheaper way? An easier way?

Are other organizations doing what we are trying to do?

Are the expenditures in our budget the best possible use of funds?

Are we biting off more than we can chew? Do we have the capacity to pull this off, and will other work suffer if we try to do it?

Does this endeavor really “move the needle” on the problem we are trying to solve? Is it just a drop in the bucket?

Are we tackling/addressing important problems or issues?

How do we know that this is a problem that needs to be solved?

If your new idea is really worth it, you shouldn’t have any fear of asking these questions. The idea will stand up to scrutiny.

What are some other Devil’s Advocate questions that you ask at your organization?

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