Heroes Among Us: The Riddler

OK, not a hero exactly.  But you know you work with the Riddler, right?  We all do.

The Riddler, a.k.a. Edward Nigma.  (E. Nigma.  Get it?  Clever, right?)  A villain from Gotham City known for fighting Batman with the power of tattling.  Really.  His whole schtick is about telling you what he’s going to do and hoping you won’t figure it out.  Not one of the more successful bad guys in the D.C. universe, to be sure.  But he did make it into the Batman movie franchise!

Um…hmm.  Better yet, let’s forget about that one.

That’s better.  Frank Gorshin to the rescue.  And suits always trump leotards.  On dudes, anyway.

All right, so what’s this cat’s story, and why are we talking about him?

  • Very smart, but obsessed with puzzles, riddles and games.
  • Enjoys outsmarting everyone around him.
  • Not really dangerous, just out to prove how much better he is than everyone else.
  • Analysis has shown that he can’t help himself.  He may not want to leave clues or commit crimes to match them, but his particular form of OCD prevents him from stopping.

So who is the Riddler in your life?  Think back to the last project, staff meeting or lunchroom conversation you’ve had.  Was there someone who:

  • Knew 100 reasons why your idea wouldn’t work?
  • Knew from “unnamed sources” that your plans were doomed to fail, but couldn’t explain why?
  • Was positive that your understanding of the current debt crisis/global politics/statistics/Polly Pockets market value was way off?
  • Was sure about the correct way to tame an alligator/eat a blowfish/perform open heart surgery with a spork?
  • Could have written a much better ending to Battlestar Glactica/St. Elsewhere/Lost?

Chances are, that’s your Riddler.  They delight at using their intellectual ability to shoot down your ideas, but rarely offer their own.  The are great at hindsight, and can tell you how something should have been done, though they are tough to find when the work is ongoing.  They have a wide understanding of everything, and can prove it by citing one or two well known (and very often wrong or misunderstood) facts.  And they can derail your faster than you might believe.

So how do you deal with the Riddler?  Take a page from Batman, of course.

  • Listen to them closely and make sure you understand what they are saying.  Take notes if you must.
  • Repeat back to them.  Ask questions to clarify if you can.
  • Feed your data into the Batcomputer, then punch them until they go away.

OK, not the last step.  Instead, think of them as a great resource.  Most of the time, your Riddler thinks they are being helpful, not destructive.  You just need to redirect their intellectual energy.  Get them to work on the solution instead of the problem.  Acknowledge what they know.  Admit they might be right about why your idea is wrong, then ask them to figure out how to get around that flaw.  Ask them for more information/detail/documentation.

Your task isn’t to discredit them.  Your task is to turn them to your side and use their ability for good.


  1. […] Heroes Among Us: The Riddler: Dwane Lay, Lean HR blog, discusses how to deal with the ‘Riddler’ in your workplace. […]

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