The Contrary ASIC Designer

Last Saturday night I went to a family Seder to celebrate the first night of Passover. You know, like in The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston. As part of the Seder, we read a story of 4 sons, one wise, one contrary, one simple, and one unable to ask a question.

This got me thinking about some of the contrary ASIC designers I’ve worked with through the years … you know the type:

1. If everyone else wants to take road A, he wants to take road B.
2. If everyone else wants to take road B, he wants to take road C.
3. If you’ve got a plan, he’ll tell you why it won’t work.
4. Once he takes a stand on an issue, he’ll never give up.
5. He doesn’t really care what others think about him.
6. Every battle is worth fighting … to the death.

The contrarian ASIC designer can sap the energy and optimism out of a design team with all his negativity. Obviously, not good. So, why would anyone want to work with a contrarian?

Well, I’m here to tell you that the contrarian gets a bad rap and he can be a critical member of the team. First, some background…

Most law schools use a method of contrarian argument based upon the Socratic Method, that goes something like this:

• A legal decision to consider is chosen
• One student or the professor argues one interpretation
• Another student is assigned to argue the opposite position.

It does not matter what the individuals actually believe. They need to argue their assigned position as vigorously as they can. The goal is not for there to be a winner or loser in the argument. The goal is for the students to get the most complete and thorough understanding of the issue under consideration as possible. And only by giving both sides equal status can this be done. In the end, the law students emerge better prepared.

So, again, why would anyone want to work with a contrarian? In short, because the contrarian keeps the rest of us honest.

Consider the 6 behaviors of a contrarian that I mentioned earlier. Viewed within the context of law school argument, the contrarian is simply holding up his end of the bargain, to represent the opposite viewpoint. He’s the one most likely to find the holes that would otherwise eventually kill the project. Sure, he may find 9 holes that are not real for every real hole. But the one real hole he finds probably never would have been found by anyone else. In that sense, the contrarian is actually the ultimate optimist, because he’s the one trying the hardest to protect project success.

So, when you see that Contrarian on your project the next time, give him a hug…well, maybe not.

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One Response to “The Contrary ASIC Designer”

  1. Brad says:


    You’re exactly right. Contrarians, negative scanners, etc…, are an integral part of a team because of their ability to find holes. Of course, a manager needs to know how to utilize this type of person in a positive manner or they can really dampen the morale of a team.

    How do you get a contrarian to buy into an architecture? First, you’ve got to listen to them. Really listen without trying to change their opinion. If they say something can’t be done then you’ve got to show them how it can be done, and if you can’t then maybe you’ve found a hole. Then you’ve got to make them a part of every decision. It may take longer to get to the final architecture, but when you get there you will know it is solid, and you will know that the contrarian will do a good job implementing the design because they will believe in it.


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