Using your Inner Cynic to Weed Out Bad Ideas

Lately, it seems we are constantly surrounded by messages of positivity, mindfulness, gratitude and good vibes. So I want you to pause, take a deep, cleansing breath and repeat a mantra that will give you clarity and focus… bah humbug!

Sound familiar? Don’t get me wrong, optimism and positivity is the fuel that keeps you going through life – but a healthy dose of cynicism is also important.

Cynicism has gotten an understandably bad rap, but listening to your inner cynic can help you screen and vet beliefs, edit plans, and even give you the courage to speak out against bad ideas before they get too far. It helps to keep you grounded, thinking critically and looking out for rocky terrain. Don’t believe me? Then ask yourself if a cynic would have allowed Magnum to think that floral ice cream was the best way to celebrate the empowerment of women.

So put the Kool-Aid down, brew yourself a black coffee and let’s explore how your inner cynic can make you a better communicator.

Finding your inner cynic

This is the easiest step, as any communicator has seen enough to develop an instinct for bad ideas. An inner critic always starts off with a gut feel – an urge to roll your eyes and go “ugh, seriously?”. Of course, as professionals we don’t always say this out loud (this is, after all, a blog post about harnessing your inner cynic) as we don’t want to be viewed as being an outwardly unpleasant or a consistently contrarian person to be around.

However, as professionals, voicing concerns about an idea we think could negatively impact a client isn’t rude – it’s healthy and can be incredibly important. After all, the biggest misconception in the “be positive” movement is that we can’t be positive and creative while being cynical at the same time. The creative process usually involves some form of evaluation and refinement, and that inner cynic can push you to abandon unfeasible ideas and clear the way for new solutions to address an issue.

Editing your inner cynic

Like most other gut feelings, this cynical voice can come from both rational and irrational sources. It’s a culmination of past experiences and industry knowledge, but it can also stem from unconscious bias and faulty reasoning. Our job is to listen to the cynic, but to also question where it comes from – in other words, you have to be cynical about your cynicism.

If that sounds a little too meta, here are a few questions to ask yourself the next time an idea rubs you the wrong way:

  • Have I seen something similar done before? Has that idea failed?
  • If it sounds like something that’s failed before, were there any other factors that led to the failure that we could change this time around?
  • Does this idea contradict something that I believe in? If so, is this belief sacred to me? Why?
  • Does this idea go against something that its target audience believes? If so, can we – and should we – change our target audiences’ belief?
  • Do I think that there is not enough time/resources/skill to implement the idea? What else does this idea need to become reality?

Most times, there is a solid justification for your gut feeling. But sometimes, that cynic speaks from an irrational place and it can hinder you from looking at the idea from all perspectives.

An experience that stuck with me was working with what I felt was an “unpitchable” client. They kept pushing badly designed products, but the client was absolutely convinced they were the bees’ knees. My inner cynic kept pushing back on a lot of their ideas, and most times that gut instinct was validated, as a lot of their products were badly reviewed and killed in a matter of months. After a while, it became second nature to find flaws in and discount whatever new thing they were sending us – but when someone new to the team asked me to pause and take a second look at a new product, I realised there was actually something unique about it. If I didn’t have that someone to remind me to check that inner cynic, we would have missed out on a great opportunity for that client.

Expressing your inner cynic

This is the hardest part – especially for people in an agency role where sometimes pushing back on a client can be complicated. But as communicators and guardians of our clients’ brands, we have a responsibility to tell them when something isn’t sitting well with us, even when it may lead to difficult conversations.

One way to do this is to justify your concerns with examples and data – this moves the conversation away from the realm of feelings and into one of facts. Another way is to come prepared with alternatives. No client enjoys being told they have a problem without being offered a solution. In terms of positioning your pushback, always be conscious about not attacking personal views or beliefs, and instead focusing feedback on solving your clients biggest challenges.

So the next time the urge to roll your eyes hit you when you hear a “bad” idea, take a deep cleansing breath, examine your feelings and harness your inner cynic to help you find the next best solution.

Have a few ideas up your sleeve but need a fresh, “cynical” pair of eyes? We can help :


Why you need to hire a cross-functional PR and content agency

As PR and content professionals, we’re no longer just writing releases and making calls, we’re producing videos, directing photoshoots, filming vines, writing literature, overseeing design work, and some of us need to breakdance. Okay one of us.

Public relations is one of the fastest moving industries, and that’s mainly due to how much digital has changed the way audiences perceive brands. Likewise, content marketing has been the advertising industry’s hot new potato for the past few years and we have to learn a new skill every quarter.

In order for agencies to keep up with the demands of our clients, we need to be agile and perform roles outside of our departmental silos. At Mutant we have a small team, but we are also flexible ninjas at adapting to new roles. Three of the skill requirements for working with us is 1) flexible 2) digitally savvy 3) parkour.

When hearing pitches from agencies, pay attention to how big their team is. Is it a huge agency where they’re passing clients to juniors down the line? Do you know your main point of contact and content producers? Get to know the roles of each member you’re working with and their skillset.

If you’re not hiring an agency, but want to have a cross functional team, it’s not easy. But it is achievable with some guidelines. It takes a lot of planning, structure, patience, and snacks to get everyone on the same page. Here are some tips on how to build your own cross-functional team.

  • Clearly defined roles: To avoid the “that’s not my job” culture, make sure everyone in the team has a clearly defined job description with expectations of crossover duties. This can avoid any work left incomplete, or tasks ignored. With explicit roles, team members will know exactly what is expected of them, and they’re just not dropping in and out of the conversation and getting involved as they please. I.e. “The content manager is responsible for all video strategy, but contributes 3x weekly social posts.”
  • Set standards: Learning on-the-go is fun, but you can save hours if you spend one day training a newbie on what “done” actually looks like. When everyone has more than one role, there can be some heavy inconsistencies.
  • Creative brainstorms: Getting stuck in your own silo means you’re recycling the same ideas over and over. Once a week, sit down to share some creative ideas across the entire team to see them through (in our case, everyone does PR and content ideas).

This means getting ideas from all departments, because nowadays, data teams could be offering PR teams some killer insight, likewise content professionals might know all the buzzwords that the sales team need to close those deals.

  • Set limits: One of the biggest downfalls of cross-functional teams is work being put on one person. Deadlines for specific deliverables should be set. To set realistic deadlines that get done, don’t overload work on to one person.
  • Be resourceful: We don’t mean re-using post-it notes. Be resourceful with your staff. Not everyone is hired to do the job that they’re meant to do. One benefit of having a cross-functional team is to be able to allocate resources properly. If you see a flailing staff member, give them the option to move onto another project that they might be better at.
  • Have several accountable leaders: With some staff members grinding out the details, it’s hard to see the project as a whole. The trend towards cross-functional teams means we’re losing that old-school hierarchy mentality that inhibits pro-active and creative staff. That being said it’s important to share leadership functions and make sure each project has a different team leader that’s accountable for seeing the project end to end.
  • Training sessions Not everyone will walk into a role knowing how to do multiple jobs. Team training sessions are valuable for staff members to step in if someone is sick or away. A monthly training session on photoshop, content, press releases, pitching to the entire team is essential.

If you can’t change your team or hire staff to be agile, hire an agency that’s able to adapt to new changes in the media landscape.

To find out more about one of the quickest moving teams in the industry write to us at