Why You Need a Negative Nancy…

If you’ve ever pitched a Service Improvement Plan or innovation idea, you’re probably familiar with one of the crappiest parts of the presentation and if not, then are you hiring?  For the rest of us, there’s Nancy.

Have you met Nancy?

Generally the pattern works like this…

  1. Come up with great idea, not fully fleshed out but there’s something there.
  2. Quick “Hey I have an idea” pitch to see if anyone else likes it.
  3. Nancy snaps back with a reason it will fail.
  4. You come up with a solution or mitigation for the problem.
  5. Nancy’s too quick on the draw for you with another.
  6. Repeat steps 3-5 ad infinitum (which in my case means I get bored of solving problems on the fly and just agree, then go build it anyway).

Flying Spaghetti Monster have mercy on you if you’re not a patient man/woman.


So what do you do?  Stop pitching ideas altogether?  Avoid Nancy or stop pitching ideas when they’re within earshot?  Suggest to their team leader that they’re not a team player and perhaps we need to evaluate what they’re really bringing to the team?  Organise a freak printer accident to sort the problem out on the sly?


Those are all horrible ideas.  The problem here is that you’re pitching an idea in the “What if” stages.  This is not the time to be talking about how and requirements etc. at the level Nancy is throwing doomsday at it.  Now is the time for “But if it magically worked, is it a good idea?”  So I have something for you to try.

  • Establish that this conversation is the “Yeah but if by magic it had no problems, is it a good idea/design that will benefit us and thus worth exploring?” moment and get your answer.
  • Alright Nancy is itching to add “Yeah but we don’t do magic, so …” so quick! Attack her/him with, “Okay.  So we’ll come up with a basic design, John will do this, Jane will do that, and you Nancy…I want you to break it.”

They want to find a problem at every corner, so let them.  This was literally my job for 2 years.  Test Engineer.  Granted I was given functional specs of a design and confirmed those worked as expected, but the fun part was literally breaking the product on purpose.  You can bet I got super creative and there are some people who are just damn well artists!

This should give you positive 3 outcomes where you had only a hit man and a shovel before.

No, it's you who won't work.

  1. You get the idea out there.
  2. Nancy let’s you build a quick version (which you know has faults because you’re being agile) while they wait with baited breath to bring on the pain.
  3. Nancy’s hard work derailing the idea is converted to fault checking and risk mitigation.

Give it a try next time you’re going up against Nancy and see how you go.


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