In the ever-evolving landscape of business, ideas are the lifeblood of innovation. If you have a brilliant idea, that’s great. Good ideas need support and nurturing, but it’s only the beginning: real sustainable access requires facing discomfort head-on. You need to be able to accept feedback, know your competition, and subject your ideas to scrutiny.
Getting comfortable with discomfort is the key to success, and it’s not only crucial for leadership but also for everyone in your organization who works with ideas, products, and people. The Murder Board is a structured approach to criticizing ideas and products that can ensure that everyone is well-prepared. In this blog, we’ll dive into the Murder Board method, talk about getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, and explain how Murder Boards can empower you and your team to accept the feedback you need to grow your business.
Who Uses Murder Boards
Origins and Adaptations
The term murder board originated in the U.S. military, specifically from the Pentagon, but is also used in academic, journalistic, government appointment, and business contexts. The Murder Board serves a crucial role in identifying vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and other issues that internal stakeholders might overlook. If you’ve ever spent hours on a piece of writing or an email only to notice a typo as soon as you’ve sent it (who hasn’t?), you have an idea of what inattentional blindness can do. When all of our energy is focused in one direction, we might miss the small details that can become huge roadblocks.
The method is used in business—one of the most well-known examples of a Murder Board is the kind of questioning used on Shark Tank. But it’s also used by politicians to prepare for high-stakes political hearings, like those involving Secretary of Veterans Affairs nominee Ronny Jackson. They’re also used to prepare for PR crises, like when Mark Zuckerberg gave his congressional testimony.
By terminating (e.g., murdering) the weakest points, a series of tough questions, discussions, and decisions can help make the idea as strong as possible. By uncovering problems, risks, and overlooked aspects, a Murder Board can save organizations from making catastrophic errors. It’s not about making the person presenting feel bad—it’s about making sure the strongest possible version of an idea is the one that gets sent to the battlefield, to the world stage, or to the market.
Why Discomfort Will Grow Your Business
At Audacia, we believe in the value of getting comfortable with discomfort. Whether you’re realizing that you need to revise your value proposition, reevaluate your strategy in the face of uncertainty, or prepare for an Investor Day, the things that will grow your business will almost inevitably feel uncomfortable at one point or another.
A Murder Board is one of the most potent medicines for getting comfortable with discomfort. It’s about willingly subjecting ideas and strategies to criticism and critique. By doing it in a way that supports and encourages your employees, you can not only grow your business but also help your employees give (and receive) better feedback.
When you can look reality in the eye and take the first uncomfortable step towards improving, you’re on your way to being able to see the challenges that must be addressed long before your competitors.
When to Use a Murder Board: Enhancing Preparedness for Critical Scenarios in Business
In the world of corporate strategy, the Murder Board can be applied to various forms of written and oral communications. Here, we explore three prominent scenarios where the Murder Board can ensure that your team is poised for success.
1. Preparing for Uncertainty or Crisis: A Proactive Approach to Risk Management
The business landscape is fraught with uncertainty, and unexpected crises can emerge at any moment: climate change, PR scandals, global crises, and more. For those fortunate enough not to have encountered a full-blown crisis, market fluctuations or preparing for an M&A deal are also good reasons to remain vigilant. The Murder Board is not only for huge events, though it’s great for those. At its core, it’s a risk management tool.
The initial step in preparing for a crisis is assembling a dedicated “damage control” Murder Board. This team should ideally comprise individuals with a deep understanding of both media dynamics and the specific vulnerabilities within your organization. Their role is twofold: to identify potential issues and vulnerabilities, and to formulate the toughest questions imaginable along with the best possible answers grounded in facts. Once these initial assessments are complete, the focus shifts to refining these answers and preparing your spokespeople for high-pressure scenarios.
2. Scrutiny from Investors: Elevating Your Game for Analyst Meetings
For companies engaging with investors, especially in one-on-one meetings with executives, being at the top of your game is non-negotiable. In these instances, the Murder Board is instrumental in ensuring your team is well-prepared in terms of executive presence, messaging, and a comprehensive grasp of key company metrics.
This is the time to call upon your most astute internal financial analysts. Encourage them to channel their inner “Shark Tank” persona. This specialized team, your investor relations Murder Board, should focus on formulating intricate and challenging questions that explore various angles on the company’s financial performance.
Bring in hypothetical situations where competitors are poised to outperform you, where investors—on paper—have every reason to choose to invest in them over you. How do you answer the tough questions that emerge? The Murder Board will ensure you’re more than able to highlight key competitive differentiators.
3. Scrutiny from Customers: Empowering Your Sales Team
Customers can be among the most discerning and demanding audiences. You know how it looks when an airline or company has comments flooded with angry customers because of poor performance or a PR scandal—it’s every Chief of Comms’ worst nightmare. Beyond the major faux pas, there are many other ways customers can be critical.
By preparing your sales team with a “customer relations” Murder Board, they can role-play within a context where they’re encouraged to get curious about how they act under pressure. Practicing before it happens with actual upset customers can make it all the more manageable in the long run. Especially when newer team members take on the role of the customer, your team can develop a deeper understanding of client needs.
Maximizing Preparedness and Growing Capacity for Discomfort
We understand that the concept of murder board sessions may, at first glance, appear excessive or even cruel. However, it’s vital, particularly for less seasoned leaders, to acknowledge that genuine readiness for critical situations and Q&A sessions necessitates more than surface-level preparations. Here’s how you can practice the Murder Board today.
Challenge Company Beliefs
We have seen again and again how individuals and teams fail to maintain objectivity when pitching ideas or experimenting with new messaging. To break free from the confines of the organizational echo chamber, engaging a murder board with external perspectives proves invaluable.
These sessions facilitate a rigorous examination of beliefs concerning various aspects of your business, and might include questions like this:
- What major issues or challenges are we overlooking?
- What’s our message, in its simplest form? What audiences will resonate with this, and what audiences won’t resonate with it? If they won’t, why?
- What do we know about our customers? What don’t we know? If we gained more information about x, y, or z, how drastically would we have to change our strategy?
- Is our communication and messaging consistent? Do we contradict ourselves? What are the chances that we can’t follow through on the promises we made?
A fundamental aspect of the Murder Board is to introduce fresh perspectives, often originating from the standpoint of the client or stakeholder. Compelling your team to contemplate worst-case scenarios from the investor’s point of view stimulates critical thinking and fosters the development of robust defenses around economic issues. Additionally, encouraging your team to view situations from the client or stakeholders’ point of view can highlight a different set of deficiencies or unaddressed angles that require attention.
For this to work, it’s crucial to put yourself in a different perspective than you usually occupy. It can be a good idea to hire someone external to the organization to do this if you don’t have someone who is willing to put on their “Shark Tank” persona.
Supporting Employees Every Step of the Way
The Murder Board can be intense, and for good reason. If successful, your ideas and presentations will be air-tight and win over investors, customers, and business partners. However, ensuring that it truly helps your employees get comfortable with discomfort requires more. Being critical comes easy for some of us—but training our leaders and employees to be critical of each other’s ideas while supporting and being kind to each other is crucial. Otherwise, this process risks stoking anxiety and workplace tension.
Always keep in mind the values of a people-first workplace. Give adequate scaffolding before and after murder board sessions to support your employees, celebrate improving ideas as a collective win, and encourage each other—outside of the Murder Board—to be honest and kind about each other’s ideas (I promise it’s possible!).
The Murder Board is for Creation, Not Destruction
A Murder Board is a powerful tool to stress-test your company’s communication skills, enabling your team to thrive in high-pressure scenarios. The discomfort it introduces should not be seen as a hurdle but as a stepping stone to better understanding your messaging and connecting with key stakeholders. Ultimately, you’re eliminating weaknesses in order to create something even greater—the Murder Board destroys weak ideas for the sake of creating something better.
To maintain an objective perspective, consider enlisting external experts, like Audacia Strategies, who have a proven track record in preparing teams for high-stakes meetings, investor relations, and transformative business endeavors. Embrace the Murder Board, and watch your business reach new heights through resilience, adaptability, and strategic refinement.
Photo credit: Image by yanalya on Freepik