Some people believe that ideas have the ability to persuade people. A good idea will succeed on its own. I used to share this thinking early in my career. But the first few brushes with reality convinced me otherwise.
Yes, it is a fact that a small number of ideas seem to become famous on their own. There is also a rich literature on memes that shows that some ideas have the ability to propagate well. Some have also tried to answer this question – what makes an idea popular? Made to Stick by Heath brothers offered six properties of an idea that makes it stick.
Innovators Should Reject This Notion
The moment you step into the shoes of an innovator you should disavow this notion. You should stop believing that great ideas become successful and weak ideas fail.
I have just finished a major research project covering over 100 firms. I found that many great ideas languished in the organizations. Or worse, they were stifled and killed. At the same time, you have seen many poor ideas reach the marketplace. Some of them make you wonder how did such a bad idea ever reach the market.
The fact is that the intrinsic value of an idea and its ability to gain acceptance are two different things. One doesn’t change the other. Ideas do not determine their fate, ideators do.
Innovators should believe that every idea needs a great pitch to succeed. This belief will make your ideas more likely to succeed. It will transform you into a more successful innovator.
The Art of Pitching Innovation Ideas
The moment you believe that ideas need to be pitched the next question is how to succeed at it? Is there an art of pitching that you can use?
How do people share ideas to make them more successful? What made us love the iPhone and accept it right away? What makes us upgrade the phone every few years? Did you recently refuse to buy into an idea? If yes, what made you reject that idea?
There are two ways in which people pitch ideas: hope and fear.
One set of innovators uses hope in an effective manner. If you go back to how Jobs sold the iPod or the iPhone, you can see hope at play. He sprinkled his presentation with words like magical, transformational, and amazing. He was impressive in his pitch.
The other set of pitchers uses fear. They often rely on a logic like “if you don’t do this then …”
The cost of not buying that idea is usually much more than status quo. If you don’t do something and your competitor does it, then you will lose big time. Insurance salespeople often use fear to sell their products.
Research in behavioral decision theory shows that framing can alter the buyer behavior. It shows that people tend to take greater action when faced with a fear of loss than when confronted with a promise of gain. In my book the dark side of innovation, I discussed this at length. There I linked Nobel prize-winning research in behavioral decision theory with my empirical observations across industries.
The point here is that research data provides some important pointers on how to pitch your innovation ideas.
Which way to pitch?
If fear makes people take greater action should you always use fear framing? Of course, that is impractical. Sometimes you just cannot sell individuals with loss framing.
I remember walking into a bank in 2009. The bank manager tried to sell me the idea of buying a home equity line of credit (HELOC). His pitch was that in uncertain times, one could lose a job and thus an HELOC is a good way to prepare for it. It was an awful way to pitch it. He could have pitched it with hope too. He could have made it look like an opportunity. That pitch would have been “low HELOC rates and depressed markets provide you an opportunity to profit.”
Imagine if Jobs had used a negative framing to sell the iPhone? Can you imagine him succeeding with a fear framing?
It is somewhat clear that some ideas are better framed with hope and others with fear. At other times you have the ability to use either. In fact, at times great persuaders use a combination technique.
When Jobs asked Sculley to join Apple he used a combo method. His words were “do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life or do you want to come with me and change the world?”
A key takeaway is that you should be aware of the nature of your pitch. Are you using hope or fear? Did you choose your pitch after considerable thought? Does hope or fear fit the idea better?
Think about your pitching strategy when you pitch your next innovation idea. Let this deliberate thinking become a part of your innovation agenda in 2017.