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Pitching an Innovative Idea (Part 1)

Pitching an Innovative Idea (Part 1)

One of the principal challenges any innovator faces is persuading others of the value of an idea. It is a frequent source of frustration and angst, and an absolutely essential innovation skill. Without the ability to sell our ideas, we are unlikely to get any assistance from colleagues, permission from the boss or fellow decision makers, or any financial support. Perhaps most crucially, if we can’t persuade someone of the value of our idea, we are unlikely to have any customers or other adopters…hence no revenue or other value-creation.

In my last post The Trouble With Facts in Innovation I discussed the problem of using what we already know, to advocate for new ideas. Facts are about where we’ve been, not where we’re going. Innovation is inherently forward looking. It’s about imagining and creating things that do not yet exist, and therefore things that may not have (and arguably cannot have) facts to support them. The CEO of a British maker of prediction software was onto this problem when he told Time magazine, “If you know something to be true, it’s already history.”

Relying on facts may not only fail to enhance our arguments for a new product, service or approach; it may undermine our credibility. It’s just too easy for critics to expose the logical gap that creates. Here’s a simple template for thinking through how to pitch your ideas to others. Broadly speaking, you want to apply and interpret facts to lay a logical foundation that’s based on the current realities. Yet, talk in terms of objectives and desirable outcomes to support a proposed course of action.

1) Take the known facts head on. Don’t ignore or gloss over current realities. Acknowledge the challenges that must be faced. This is of course an important self-discipline. It’s also a way to build credibility with others. They need to feel that you’re living in the same world they live in, not some alternative reality.

2) Reinterpret and reframe those facts by rethinking how to make sense of that data, offering alternative explanations that point to potential new solutions, discoveries and insights. This may include noting some of the things that may be uncertain, or challenging assumptions that are not supported by the facts.

3) Offer your idea as a response to the (re)interpretation you’ve given, and a way of achieving a more desirable future. Hopefully, you’ve imagined and considered more than one possible solution. So you should explain why you’ve chosen this particular option over others.

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