Saturday, September 26, 2020

The Devils Advocate

Real risk is what remains unknown after everything known has been considered.

The world respects the intelligence agencies of Israel. Their country is surrounded by people who hate them (India comes a close second in neighborhood hostility) but Israel has prospered with help of its intelligence agencies and their bold actions.

Things were very different years ago. In 1973 Israel was attacked simultaneously by its neighbors and was taken by surprise. In spite of having a lot of actionable intelligence that the attack would happen the decision makers did not take any action. Israel did win the war and then went on to find out why all the intelligence was ignored. The culprit was Group Think. All the people in the decision making group, in spite of acknowledging the intelligence reports, chose to ignore them only to be surprised later. This led to the principal of the Tenth Man or Devils Advocate. The logic is that if 9 people of the group agree on something, the tenth man has to compulsorily take an opposite view and point to loopholes so that all angles can be discussed and a better decision can be taken.

What Am I Missing Here?

Is a good question to keep asking to keep us alert, even paranoid. Being aware of the fact that there is always the unknowable and unforeseen that will disrupt the best plans will help us create better plans with higher margins of safety. History teaches us that trying to be efficient in everything is futile. Margin of safety is a cost until it becomes a life saver. That is why plan B and Plan C are as important as Plan A, which will work most of the time but some times back up will need to be called.

Why is dissent so difficult? Dissenters get labelled and ousted. Conformity kept us in tribes and safe in groups. Being contrarian is painful most of the time. The label of Devils Advocate itself has negativity attached to it.

If everyone agrees with us on something, we need to find dissenters and then listen to them or become one ourselves. It is very difficult to acknowledge a counter view and even more difficult to act on it. It is best to keep an open mind and listen to potential problem areas one may have overlooked, so that the plan can become better.

It Is equally important to come to a decision and once done, the group should whole heartedly back it. Dissenting and agreeing should not become political tools to win points or settle scores. Ideally, the devils advocate should try to see all the follies and the overlooked aspects and then get aligned to the final decision of the group. The idea is to make the final decision stronger and not sabotage it. Real sabotage is in seeing the folly and not pointing it out.