Stop Paving Pathways with Straw

By: Scott Dannemiller, Chief Learning Officer, Executive Development Associates, Inc. 

Stop Paving Pathways with StrawUnless you have been forcibly locked in a doomsday bunker, you have no doubt seen the escalating debates between presidential candidates in the media.  And, as Fall quickly approaches, one familiar sight is making a frequent appearance. 

The Straw Man 

In critical thinking parlance, the Straw Man Fallacy is one where a person (in hopes of refuting the opposing point of view) exaggerates the negative aspects of his adversary’s claims, distorting their position and making it easy to win the argument. While this technique is quite effective at boosting one’s own ego, it is a terrible way to make a logical argument. 

Sadly, such logical fallacies don’t just exist in the political landscape.  Television is littered with examples of companies trying to distort the perceptions of market leaders, only to fall flat.  Consider RIM’s launch of its Playbook touch-screen device.  The slogan “amateur hour is over” tried in vain to discredit other products without specifically touting what problems the Playbook was fixing.  Samsung tried the same strategy when it rolled out its Galaxy phones by exaggerating the “sheep mentality” of Apple customers (who they were trying to woo) instead of focusing on the benefits of its own product.  Both companies lost market share before trying a different tactic.  Yes, the pathway to self-destruction is littered with straw. 

Whether you are positioning yourself against an external competitor or comparing the disparate ideas of different department leaders within the organization, it’s best to avoid the Straw Man tactic and focus instead on sound critical thinking.  Here are some strategies to help: 

  1. Acknowledge Drawbacks – No plan, idea, or product is perfect.  If you only focus on the benefits of your own position without acknowledging and speaking about the drawbacks, you will appear out-of-touch and invite skepticism.  Be truthful about the drawbacks, while demonstrating how they might be overcome.
  2. Acknowledge Benefits – When examining the opposing point of view, there is no harm in validating the benefits.  This demonstrates open-mindedness and encourages the same behavior in others.  Then, people will be more likely to hear how your position includes the same plusses, but also adds a few more benefits.
  3. Integrate – True innovation happens when we come up with a third alternative (or fourth… or fifth) that integrates the positives of a variety of positions and overcomes most negatives.  Such thinking requires effort and persistence, but the results are well worth it.

*Originally published by Action Management Associates, Inc. 

About the Author: 

Scott Dannemiller is Executive Development Associates’ Chief Learning Officer and developer of our acclaimed Critical Thinking Boot Camp. A highly skilled facilitator who consistently receives exceptional reviews for his engaging, high energy workshops, Scott is an expert at teaching practical skills using interactive learning methods to help individuals improve their critical thinking, problem solving, and decision-making skills.