Amid recent news stories about people and companies failing to live up to early and prolonged hype (Exhibit A and Exhibit B), I’ve been thinking about a former co-worker who used to revel in skepticism. As an economist with a long track record of understanding the fundamentals of our business and industry, he would sit back and listen to people selling ideas and plans designed to beat (or maybe simply ignore) well-established industry trends. He’d hear the grand plans out and then skewer them with history.

Sometimes he was wrong, but he was all too frequently right. This typically put him at odds with those selling ideas who depended more on hope in the hype surrounding their ill-conceived ideas than a solid dose of fact-based reality.

Having worked closely with him for years, I guess a little of his skepticism rubbed off on me over time.

The more I hear about how great something is even though it is completely detached from strategic logic and learnings past events suggest, the more skepticism rears its head. Even though I’m a big proponent of creativity and innovation, skepticism becomes the handy counterbalance as you move from divergent to convergent thinking.

What’s a Real Skeptic Like?

If you're charged with selling an idea to somebody who takes pride in professional skepticism, it’s important to understand what it will be like. If you plan for how you can address these ten perspectives, you’ll be better off since Skepticism:

  • Will always bet on “Too good to be true.”
  • Has an order of magnitude more strategic patience than hopeful enthusiasm.
  • Has an immunity to peer pressure.
  • Checks for consistency between words and deeds.
  • Expects a noticeable, viable track record.
  • Won’t lightly abandon what’s worked before or ignore what hasn’t ever worked.
  • Acknowledges the unexpected while waiting for the predictable to happen.
  • Sits back (way back) to avoid being trampled by the masses stampeding from the new wearing off yesterday’s fad.
  • Is more than happy to be proven wrong when it proves personally beneficial.
  • Will always insist, “The trend is your friend.”

Professional skepticism may be more complex than this ten-item list, but if you’re selling ideas to convince a skeptic, this is a pretty decent starting point on the general objections and resistance you may hear.

What’s your experience dishing out or receiving skepticism?

Are you a skeptic? Do you know one? What would you add to this list to help an idea selling hopeful better prepare to win over a skeptic? – Mike Brown


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