Idea Management & Growth: Dealing with The Devil’s Advocate

Every time I get a request to ghostwrite a book, rewrite or review corrections, it’s always pleasurable. One fear I nurse, however, is that my client will meet the devil’s advocate. I hear the excitement and fear in my client’s voice. I know that keeping that steam alive is crucial to the success of their book publishing or business campaign.

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Who is the Devil’s Advocate?

You see the job of the devil’s advocate is to see problems where there are none. He is an expert critic. Even when deadlines are approaching fast, he’d rather point out problems than fix them.

Sometimes I am tempted to laugh out loud when I see the errors in the raw ideas they bring. In fact, some author drafts look so downright terrible at first. I once told a client that the draft they sent me was “poorly written”, but I went on to help them fix it. Now I realize, I may have just been overstating issues. I could have done the corrections without beating down on the client.

We need to talk about criticism in the world of creatives and entrepreneurship. It’s fun and easy to be the devil’s advocate when everyone else is working hard to create something.

My last blog post saw me sharing about Why Your Content Marketing is Not Converting to Sales. One thing I didn’t mention is that you might also be holding yourself back by listening to the wrong critics. No successful marketing or venture can be done in self-doubt.

The Story of a Painter

A painter

Story Credits: Speaking Tree

Once upon a time, there was a painter who had just completed his course and painted beautiful scenery. He wanted people’s opinion about his caliber and painting skills.

He put his creation at a busy street-crossing. And just down below a board which read -“I have painted this piece. Since I’m new to this profession I might have committed some mistakes in my strokes etc. Please put a cross wherever you see a mistake.”

While he came back in the evening to collect his painting he was completely shattered to see that whole canvass was filled with Xs (crosses) and some people had even written their comments on the painting.

Disheartened and broken completely he ran to his master’s place and burst into tears.

This young artist was breathing heavily and master heard him saying”I’m useless and if this is what I have learned to paint I’m not worth becoming a painter. People have rejected me completely. I feel like dying”

Master smiled and suggested “My Son, I will prove that you are a great artist and have learned flawless painting.

Do as I say without questioning it. It WILL work.”

Young artist reluctantly agreed and two days later early morning he presented a replica of his earlier painting to his master. Master took that gracefully and smiled.

“Come with me.” the master said.

They reached the same street-square early morning and displayed the same painting exactly at the same place. Now master took out another board which read -“Gentlemen, I have painted this piece. Since I’m new to this profession I might have committed some mistakes in my strokes etc. I have put a box with colors and brushes just below. Please do a favor. If you see a mistake, kindly pick up the brush and correct it.”

Master and disciple walked back home.

They both visited the place the same evening. The young painter was surprised to see that actually there was not a single correction done so far. Next day again they visited and found painting remained untouched. They say the painting was kept there for a month for no correction came in!

Have You Written Your New Book Yet?

When you have just written a book or plan to launch a new business, you need to be careful of two things:

  1. Flattery.
  2. Criticism.

Most likely, you are used to avoiding flattery. It doesn’t stop there. The creative process is one that can also be disrupted by overzealous critics. They are the kind of friends I’d like to call, “devil’s advocates.”

A lot of us worry about people not telling us the truth about our products or our new books.

We say “I want your honest criticism!”

There’s this subtle romance with rejection and pain. It’s like we can’t wait to hear someone say how bad we did. In my years of helping people write content, I have never seen a business or author that succeeded with such negative energy.

Why don’t we ever ask people to encourage or even flatter us? Is it the case that most of us like people to hurt our ideas with this undue criticism?

We listen so much to those that will exaggerate the flaws. And disregard those ones that are praising us or “flattering” us.

This love-hate relationship with feedback needs to stop. Pain does not equate improvement. Your friend can be brutally and honestly, say absolute rubbish. They could be genuinely wrong.

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There Are Consequences

I have worked with a lot of brands and authors. There’s something that happens when we reach that review stage.

My client might have been excited and bubbling up with the work done. Suddenly I notice silence on their end. They are no longer happy. They sometimes even delay in closing the project and yes, my payment also hangs there with them.

I have come to realize that many of them take their product ideas or books to acute critics. The point of reviews, feedback, critiquing and editing is to improve.

It’s like there’s an inner critic in all of us that wants us to quit. So we desperately search for the devil’s advocate who is naturally predisposed to seeing flaws. We use them as an excuse to stall and in most cases, quit.

In a way, because business-like writing a book is a lot of hard work, we might want to find someone to blame in case we fail. The devil’s advocate is a perfect victim. We know that even when everyone else is rooting for us, he would have that one more problem that cannot be fixed.

The True Value of Criticism

If you are in a position where your opinion is trusted or valued, being dispassionate about this role is important. You cannot afford to be condescending, rude or verbose. Like in the story I started with, pointing out errors is not a difficult task, the real job is fixing them.

As a creative person, you need to find a balance. Know when to stop that critic and face your process. You need a little bit of flattery as much as you need honest criticism. Why are we always so intense about getting honest feedback that we ignore those who genuinely tell us “this is great work and I don’t think there’s any problem?”

Like I told a client today on a call. Please, when you are looking for feedback on your new idea or book, don’t always listen to your friends. Look for neutral parties. Ask social media. Don’t trust that your friend that enjoys tearing stuff apart because “I am your friend”.

As much as there are friends who feel obligated to flatter you, there are also friends who feel obligated to tear your work to shreds and it is not because they hate you, it’s just because they are your friends.

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