Sometimes a company just wants a qualified second opinion. For that, I offer what I call “Spitballing”, and right now I’m going to explain a bit more what that means, when to use it, and what the benefits of it are.
It’s a one-off service, specifically centered around user/customer experience and relations & design thinking. You probably know it from your own professional (or personal) life: Sometimes you want to run your project, your thoughts or ideas by somebody else – somebody who isn’t involved can sometimes spot things you can’t.
That’s what Spitballing is: – you get an honest, professional appraisement, and that’s it.
Actually, why is it that getting such an outsider’s view on things seems so intuitively beneficial – and indeed really is, as most people have personally and/or professionally experienced? Interestingly – well, I think so – this is somewhat related to the “10th man” principle. If you’ve seen the recent Brad Pitt vehicle “World War Z” you’ve heard of it; it’s what prompts Israel to build the zombie wall. But it’s actually a real innovation principle, and it goes at least as far back as Mark Twain, who said something to the effect of:
“When you find yourself on the side of the majority, you should pause and reflect.”
– Mark Twain
The “10th man” principle is to have someone who is designated to be that guy – the guy that breaks off from the majority thinking and reflects.
Now, many people interpret this to mean that majority is always wrong, which is not what it says. The principle is more like the point of the article “The Power of Dislike” by media specialist Peter Svarre. Or this one from TechCrunch, in which the position is dubbed “VP of Devil’s Advocacy”.
What they all say is: Think critically – remember, finding out that something’s wrong is the first step in fixing it.
That last article, by MG Siegler of Google Ventures, also gives us a few examples of things that might have gone less wrong if such a 2nd opinion, from a trusted devil’s advocate, had been enlisted before committing to a launch – and it gives the name of the problem that a Spitball session is meant to solve: Groupthink.
Since the vaunted “Brainstorming” concept hurtled onto the scene sometime in the 80′s (it was actually born in the early sixties but really only caught critical mass two decades later) the idea of “No Criticism” has overwhelmed everything. Now, it should be noted that, as it’s part of classical brainstorming, the idea of putting criticism on hold during “ideation” (as it’s called today, by some anyway) is actually a good thing – but like all good things, if done without moderation, it gets to be less good; the “no criticism” principle has in many ways become an omnipresent rule. We’re all obliged to always be positive, and those that criticize get labeled negative and destructive.
And that’s been an ideal breeding ground for Groupthink. In that environment, consensus becomes less a result of everyone actually being on board and being satisfied that the project at hand is a good one, and more about going along to get along, being positive, applauding and moving forward and [insert a flurry of up-beat buzzwords here]… and that, as Siegler points out, can be horribly dangerous and expensive.
With a Spitball Session I offer you the opportunity to get an outsider inside the tent to have a critical look at your stuff – I have very extensive knowledge, experience and abilities that makes my opinion worth something, but the real beauty of this service is that you don’t have to blindly trust me when I say that; all you have to do is want a second opinion, and discern that the guy who wrote the stuff you find around here, and who has the experience I have, can provide a useful one.
I understand that your product has to be desirable, feasible and financially viable – and I’ll let you know, in very clear language, if I think it lives up to that or not, and why. You can call upon my services at any phase: During concept development, product development, testing, even for an evaluation of something that’s already on the market – and yes, I’ll take a look at your communications too if you’d like me to, that’s definitely within my purview. And I’m not going to come in and tell you what to do – I’ll simply tell you what I think about what you’re actually doing.
And remember, you can always totally ignore my advice – though also remember, having an outsider pointing fingers at you might seem annoying, provocative, even painful, and changing things may cost some money, but committing to something that isn’t quite right can very well end up costing a whole lot more.