There have been more than 25 Republican debates so far this election ‘season.’  Some would say that’s way too many.  Given the alternative of voters relying on heavy doses of incredibly negative ads, I’m of the mind the debates are clearly preferred.  As we get beyond the primary madness into the fall campaign’s insanity, the trade between these two will become even starker. 

This is not meant to be a political endorsement one way or the other, but I’m convinced that you can apply something of value to your own business if you reflect a bit on Ron Paul.  Ron Paul?  Yes, in the sense that in many respects he has played a valuable devil’s advocate role in these debates.   We’ve all heard and are aware of the importance of having a devil’s advocate at meetings addressing important issues.  As founders or senior leaders, it is critical for you to have someone in the room serve in that capacity.  It helps prevent poor or, just as often in my experience, incomplete decisions.  My definition of an incomplete decision is one where one or more of the decision’s primary implications are not addressed and clarified adequately so that the team leaves the meeting without a common understanding of the decision.

Ron Paul’s Best Devil’s Advocate Traits

I have been filtering out the politics and admiring Ron Paul as an almost ideal devil’s advocate.  You should consider these traits, which seem to exude from Ron Paul:
  • Thoughtful – Right or wrong, Ron Paul has spent time thinking through his positions and, just as importantly, his questions.  You want your devil’s advocate to bring depth of thought to bear on the issue at hand.  It often takes that to ask the best questions, ones that come from a fresh point of view. 
  • Willing to speak up – Ron Paul is far from bashful.  You don’t want your devil’s advocate to be timid.  Otherwise, why are they in the room?   
  • Unique perspectives – Some of Ron Paul’s opponents would say crazy perspectives!  However, if you want to dislodge ‘group think,’ it is often necessary to plop a very unique perspective on the table. 
  • Thick skin – Some of the debates have gotten fairly personal, and it seems Ron Paul is able to maintain a remarkably even keel.  You never want your devil’s advocate to take things personally.  Their role is a valuable one, and they need to continue to be engaged on the issue. 
  • Sense of humor – Ron Paul gets some very good laughs out of the audiences, but also out of his opponents.  That indicates a likeability factor that is important.  People tend to receive out-of-the-box thoughts or questions about their position more favorably when it comes from someone with a likable personality. 
Help Your Team Make Better Decisions

When you consider your senior team that typically addresses big issues, make sure you have someone that can effectively serve as devil’s advocate.  Factor the traits above.  Ideally, your senior management team includes one or two individuals that naturally and effectively fit the bill.  If not, invite someone outside the core leadership group to attend the meeting.  I have liked to call these folks ‘thought leaders.’  Even though they are often more junior, they act as informal leaders with a great pulse of the organization, the technology, and/or the market.  

So, look around the room during your next important meeting.  See if you can locate Ron Paul.  You may be surprised to find that your Ron Paul… is you

I read an interesting article about Mobile Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) Technology on the LiDAR News website today.  It was written by Ted Knaak of Certainty 3D.  It is Ted’s perspective that adoption of mobile LiDAR scanning technology by transportation agencies is driven more by organizational issues rather than the hardware and software.  I share that perspective wholeheartedly.  He draws some valid conclusions and makes instructive recommendations to improve the rate of adoption.  I think Ted’s on the right track here in many respects, but I believe there are a couple fundamental perspectives to bring to bear that would improve understanding and might open the door to additional strategies to gain market traction.   

The article cites the tremendous improvements in efficiency that appear to be enabled by LiDAR surveying technology:  a 10x improvement in the number of scans that can be completed in a day, 80% reduction in required field time, a half-million data points per second at speeds of 45-50 mph for ground-mobile units, and even more staggering numbers for airborne systems.  However, despite these impressive performance numbers, transportation infrastructure projects have been resistant to widespread adoption of the technology. 

Ted had an informative discussion with a state surveyor from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT).  The perspectives expressed by the FDOT surveyor were tremendously valuable and drove Ted to consider a much broader view of the customer’s ecosystem.  I will get to Ted’s recommendations in a moment, but first a sidebar. 

Any time someone mentions ‘disruptive technology’ I immediately re-register the numerous wisdom nuggets that come from Clayton Christensen’s seminal book The Innovator’s Dilemma and its more instructional sequel The Innovator’s Solution.  Of particular relevance here is Christensen’s mantra to focus on the circumstance and the job to be done rather than the customer.  What exactly is the job to be done? Are you helping the customer do their job better?  Are you factoring the entirety of the job?  Are you asking the customer to change their job? 

The last of these questions is a doozy.  In many cases, and quite often it seems where LiDAR technology is involved, the customer is being asked to change their job in significant ways.  From personal experience, this is a huge challenge, especially with governmental organizations.  As Pip Coburn’s The Change Function articulates, those customers will only act when the pain of adoption is less than the level of their crisis.  Companies with emerging technology products, no matter how stellar their performance metrics, must focus relentlessly on minimizing the pain of adoption while being leery of circumstances where the customer’s sense of urgency is limited. 

It is with no small amount of trepidation that I have included a blog on my website.  Two primary concerns (no surprise here):   
    - Do I have something interesting to say?
    - Will I consistently cordon off the necessary time?

I then ran across Brad Feld's blog and two things happened.  First, I was a bit intimidated.  Brad is a prolific and interesting blogger.  He covers a range of topics and carries a great edge in his 'voice.'  He's based just up the road in Boulder, and is emblematic of the very active startup community here in Colorado.  Second, and more importantly, I learned a lot.  In fact, I found myself immediately putting a couple things I found there into practice.  For example, my Shelfari bookshelf page is a new addition today that was inspired by Brad.  I'm digging through some of his books and will probably pick a couple out for my own learning.  Perhaps you'll find one on my shelf that catches your eye. 

My perspective on this blog has already changed.  Rather than viewing it as an onerous obligation with an expectation to say something profound, it is foremost an opportunity to crystallize my own thoughts and learnings.  If readers gain new insights or fresh inspiration, that is simply icing on the cake. 

So, Feeding the Beast has begun.