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How to deal with a bad idea

So my friend wanted a dog. I didn’t think it was the best idea since he had a small condo and a job that involved a lot of travel. I knew that saying it was a bad idea would be met with stubbornness, so I asked a bunch of tough questions to get him to think about the commitment. When I sensed he was starting to rethink this idea I suggested he foster a dog instead. This story has a happy end, he fostered a dog and it found a great home with someone else.

I’ve found it helpful to use the same method with clients, provided that I keep my big mouth shut for a while.

1. Explore the idea

Start with some questions and an open mind.  It’s entirely possible that you misunderst0od the idea or that your initial reaction was wrong and it’s a good idea. You can also try sketching or using a workshop exercise to explore it. Doing this will make sure you have all the information you need to advise them and make them feel like they are being heard.

2. Probe the weaknesses 

If you’ve given the idea a fair chance and still disagree it’s time to ask more pointed questions about the weakest parts of the idea. The goal is to get them to reconsider the idea without getting defensive. I might ask how this drives a business objective, if it solves for a customer pain point or if there is any validation of the idea.

3. Challenge the idea or suggest an alternative 

Now it’s time to be direct and let them know what you think and why based on the information you’ve collected. I might say something like “I’m not sure doing (x) is right for driving your business objectives, have you thought about (y)?” If I’ve done the first two steps right, this should feel like a natural progression and not a conflict.

4. Push for a limited experiment 

In my story I suggested fostering because I knew it would give my friend the opportunity to see what having a dog would be like without making a long-term commitment. I don’t try to completely change their mind, I just try to get them to reconsider just enough so that we can test the idea. They could be wrong or I could be wrong but at least we’ll know.

For example, if someone is skeptical about testing with users, I ask them to give me an hour and watch me run a test or two and if at the end of the hour they don’t find it valuable that’s the last test we’ll do. (Side note: No one who’s watched a test has ever said they aren’t valuable)

Image: The lights of Chicago


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