The Devil’s Advocate

Phil McKinney
6 min readDec 22, 2022

Innovation is often lauded as the key to success in business. After all, staying ahead of the competition is hard if you’re not constantly coming up with new ideas and ways to improve your products or services. But is every idea you come up with a good thing? Is there such a thing as being too innovative?

To keep yourself honest, you may consider appointing a devil’s advocate.

The Devil’s Advocate is a popular movie from the 1990s that tells the story of a lawyer hired to argue against a candidate for a high-ranking position in the Vatican. The lawyer’s job is to poke holes in the candidate’s qualifications and to find any dirt that might disqualify him.

While the movie is fictional, the idea of a Devil’s Advocate is accurate, and it’s something that companies sometimes use when considering new ideas. The aim is to have someone whose job is to argue against the proposed idea and improve it by ensuring all potential problems are discussed and addressed.

Definition of a Devil’s Advocate

The term “Devil’s Advocate” comes from the Catholic Church. In canonization, the process of declaring someone a saint, there is a Devil’s Advocate (advocatus diaboli) whose job is to argue against the candidate’s sainthood. If the Devil’s Advocate can’t find anything wrong with the candidate, they probably deserve sainthood.

Why Companies Use Devil’s Advocates

There are a few reasons companies might use Devil’s Advocates.

First, it can help to prevent groupthink. When people work on a project together, they quickly get caught up in thinking that their idea is great and should be implemented immediately. Devil’s Advocates can help to forestall this by giving other people a chance to voice their objections and to point out any potential problems with an idea.

Second, it can help to ensure that all the stakeholders are on board with a decision. When considering a new idea, getting input from all…

Phil McKinney

// Author of Beyond The Obvious // Host of Killer Innovations podcast // Pres & CEO of CableLabs // Retired HP CTO // All opinions are mine //