I’m participating in an engagement, and they were struggling to define my role. Someone mentioned that I’m serving as a ‘critical friend’, and the others cottoned on to it. I hadn’t heard that term so I explored, and liked what I found. Thought I’d share it.
So, ‘critical friend‘ is a term that originated in the education sector. The prevailing definition is:
a trusted person who asks provocative questions, provides data to be examined through another lens, and offers critiques of a person’s work as a friend. A critical friend takes the time to fully understand the context of the work presented and the outcomes that the person or group is working toward. The friend is an advocate for the success of that work.
What’s key to me is that the role involves being committed to the success of the endeavor, but also being provocative. The latter is about asking the hard questions and bringing in outside input that wouldn’t likely be considered otherwise. And I believe, based upon what I’ve dug into for innovation, that this is a valuable role.
So what I’m doing is getting to know the situation, rapidly consuming lots of documents, interviewing people, and sitting in on other information gathering sessions, to get to know what’s up. Then I’m floating some ideas that I think they really need to consider. The ideas are contrary to the path they’re planning on but I’ve buttressed them with some strong arguments. They make not take on all of them, but at least they’ll have explicitly considered them.
I’ve played this role specifically in a number of different situations (in fact, in some sense you could consider most of my engagements to have at least a facet of this). I like to think that my 30+ years of work across cognition, technology, learning, design, and organizational implementation, with corporations, education institutions, government agencies, and not-for-profits, as well as my stockpiling of models, means I’ll generate some lateral and valuable thoughts in almost any situation. That’s certainly been the case to date. And I really do want to help people achieve their goals.
It’s a fun, though challenging role. You have to get up to speed quickly, and be willing to offer ideas. I pride myself on also being able to suggest ways to accomplish ideas that aren’t obviously implementable at the first go (all part of Quinnovation ;).
When you’re looking at some change, getting some critical friend support on principle is a good idea. People challenging you for your own best interest isn’t always easy, but the outcomes are pretty much always worth it. So, who’s your critical friend?