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14 Jun 2012

Arguing The Opposing Viewpoint As Problem-Solving Method

While on the debate and student congress team in high school, practice included arguing the opposing viewpoint. This helped us find arguments we had not considered. It helped us find holes in our own.

Arguing the opposing viewpoint sheds the security blanket of our own views that blind us.

Arguing the opposing viewpoint is so hard because it unbalances us so we can see holes and new possibilities.

Why Arguing The Opposing Viewpoint Is So Hard

The main aha moment for me though was how much being comfortable in my own viewpoint blinded me. As Clay Johnson in a PBS NewsHour interview about his book, Information Diet, rhetorically asks, “Who wants to hear the truth when they can hear that they are right?” It’s so easy to avoid challenges to our thinking. It’s work.

This applies to experts too. For instance, Daniel Klein wrote “I Was Wrong, and So Are You” in the December 2011 edition of The Atlantic about problems he incurred in polling. Simply by altering the viewpoint of his questions, the answers turned his original conclusions on their head. This means more work. Who wants that?

This blindness can show up as an array of poor business decisions. Some include choosing a lesser option that we know fits our:

  • Skills over a better one that will require learning new ones
  • Managerial style over a better one that doesn’t
  • Expertise over a better one that has us relying upon others’ expertise

Problem-Solving By Arguing The Opposing Viewpoint

Arguing the opposing viewpoint to solve problems is similar to challenging assumptions. In order to find an opposing view, it helps to identify the assumptions upholding the current view. First and foremost, we are challenging the assumption that the current view is right.

In a team settings, arguing the opposing viewpoint becomes quite practical. One or more from the team can argue against others on the team. In simple terms, this is like wargaming. When the military does this, a team plays the opposing side. Sometimes a third team or team member can take notes and help to assess outcomes of the exercise.

The real key in using this method to solve problems is the vesting in the opposing view that occurs. Vesting motivates us to throw off the comfort blanket of our own view. It motivates us to dig in new places. It works so well with teams because it taps competitive natures.

In the end, we might not change our minds. We will though see new holes and possibilities. In this case, our original view will only be stronger for it.


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