Somewhere along the line, we've all debated with someone who has the complete opposite point of view from ours. Those are not always comfortable conversations, but they are often enlightening and sometimes even get us to think differently or decide on a different course of action.
Another common experience is hearing the phrase, "Let me play devil's advocate for a minute." Someone then launches into the opposite view, even though they don't really feel that way. It can be a good conversation, not usually all that uncomfortable and, unfortunately, not very persuasive.
Chapter 24 of the book "Yes!" by Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin and Robert B. Cialdini looks at the role of a devil's advocate - someone asked to play the part of a dissenter, without being a true dissenter. The research shows that a devil's advocate is far less effective at promoting creative problem-solving than a true dissenter.
When you think about this in the context of a board of directors, it's both an incredibly powerful idea and an exceptionally scary one.
I don't think that there is a big appetite for most boards or managements to overturn their apple carts with the addition of a director with strong opposing views. However, the research above suggests that having an environmentalist on the board of a resource company or a union representative on the board of a manufacturing company could add significant value in the long run through more thoughtful decisions.
I have a client that did exactly that a few years ago by inviting the tenants in its building, who sometimes have conflicting interests, onto its board. It's been working out great for them. Take a read of their story here if you'd like to know more.
It's a great example of how EPCOR Centre for the Performing Arts. is Adding Value to Every Seat at the Boardroom Table™.