Skeptics vs Cynics: Problem-Solving with a Bias Towards Resolution

I’ve written before about the valuable role that skeptics play in a creative team. Although these poo-poo’ers that love to find fault with new ideas can be annoying, they’re always helpful – and essential to making ideas happen. Without them, we can get intoxicated on idea generation and fail to focus, refine our ideas, and follow through enough to succeed. So skeptics are good.However, skeptical does not mean cynical. I have observed in some teams a dangerous dynamic where skeptics turn cynical and negative. Rather than try to fix problems, they obsess over what is broken. Not only does this further obstruct finding an expedient resolution, it also sucks energy out of the team.Here’s the difference:

The skeptic: “I’m concerned about the issue, and I think we need to revisit X and Y. Perhaps we want to try Z instead? Or maybe there is a way we can tweak Y to work?”

The cynic: “We did not discuss the issue enough. X and Y are both wrong. We’re not approaching this in the right way.”

Notice how both people disagree, but the skeptic is pushing the search for a solution while the cynic is simply focused on what is wrong.

Rather than try to fix problems, they obsess over what is broken.

In a creative environment that moves a mile a minute, everyone should act with a bias towards resolution. This means discussing the problem with the intention of solving it rather than embellishing it. As a leader of a creative team, you should expect possible solutions from everyone, even those that are pessimistic. The possible solutions don’t need to be the right solutions, and they don’t need to be fully constructed.

The process of discussing a problem in the language of resolution can help a team maintain enough energy to debate the options. Like throwing spaghetti on a wall, the more solutions proposed, the more likely one sticks. If you’re the team skeptic, you can rest assured knowing that debating the merits of various solutions will shed more light on the problem.

Many leaders insist that adversity only serves to strengthen a team. Problems help us better understand our product and further refine the way we work. Unfortunately, problems also bring out the worst in people. Tempers, insecurities, and fears are most likely to flare up during conflict. Nevertheless, the best teams are able to weather the storm by keeping their eyes on the prize – the prospect of resolution.

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Scott Belsky

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Scott Belsky is Adobe's Vice President of Community and Co-Founder & Head of Behance, the leading online platform for creatives to showcase and discover creative work. Scott has been called one of the "100 Most Creative People in Business" by Fast Company, and is the author of the bestselling book, Making ideas Happen.
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