March 5

You’ve likely been in a number of meetings in which—in a moment of desperation—someone exclaims “let me propose a straw man.” It’s an idea that’s known to be compromised and is a soft proposal designed to be shot at and dismantled by everyone else in the room. In theory, the straw man tactic seems like it should be effective. Afterall, it provides an opportunity to discuss the problem, and it may feel better in the moment than being stuck. However, you must be careful in setting up a straw man for a few reasons:

The straw man[1]anchors you. Once you begin to discuss the straw man, you are no longer thinking about what you might be able to do; you begin narrowing your efforts to evaluating that particular idea. So you stop looking for new ideas.

Some people in the room are relieved by the introduction of the straw man because they are no longer accountable for coming up with an idea. So they might do anything they can to rationalize why the idea works.

The straw man is knowingly compromised. Starting from a place of intentional compromise is not a way to muster team morale.

I encourage you to replace the straw man method with “What if we…?” Introduce an idea that’s designed to be built on, not torn down.

Resist the urge to create a straw man in your creative work. It anchors you and limits your creative thinking.

Are you presently stuck in the straw man trap with a project? How can you navigate through it?

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