How to Pitch Innovation

how to get a thumbs up

How to pitch innovation to risk-averse people

I work in an industry where the vast majority (and probably rightly so) of employees are risk averse. Avoiding or minimizing risk is important (at times) to produce profit, increase shareholder value and advance a business in the right direction. In doing so, many firms pass up opportunity to break from the status
quo and miss substantial value, which could ultimately lead to their downfall. The good firms have been able to balance risk aversion and still place a high importance on innovation.

Innovation should be a big part of any (good) firm’s directive but it can be challenging to get creative and diverge from the status quo. Managers push “outside-the-box” ideas but really… they want “inside-the-box”, vanilla, not too flashy thinking. Here’s why. Creativity is scary.
Especially to people that are not typically creative.

Think about a truly novel idea – the automobile. A famous quote from Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” This explains the mindset for a lot of people (sometimes managers) – they can only see what’s in front of them. New value /original ideas buck the status quo and do not fit into the current main stream. They are “scary” until proven “genius”.

How does innovative or creative thinking go in your workplace? 

You have this awesome, new, creative idea at work and you tell your boss. They might shut it down, they might critique it, they may even say “great idea”. If the response is the latter (and you work for someone who wants you to succeed) you will most likely have to go through several rounds of “pitching” your idea until you get anyone to back you or fund you.

Before you gear up to bust your CEO’s door down, understand you need a game plan…

Hurdles of innovation and how to create your pitch

1. Creative Bias
Out of the gate, you will need to overcome the biggest hurdle of “creative bias“. Creativity scares people. Creation is sometimes ugly. You need to understand this. Your audience will judge your idea immediately and compare it to the status-quo.

There is hope! You can overcome this by showing that your idea is not really that “outside of the box”. Try taking the edges off and reduce the radical-ness of the idea. Look, you know you have a great idea, they might too – you just need to get your audience over the first hurdle of their bias.

To overcome the creative bias, make the idea appear as if its something natural or something we should already be doing. David Burkus calls this “compatibility“. Show how your idea is similar to something they know. This assimilates their brain to the idea and allows them to accept it – because it appears “normal” to the audience.

2. Make the idea hot. Why is it needed right now?!
Taking some ideas from Oren Klaff’s Pitch Anything, you need to make the audience need the idea you are pitching. Klaff calls this a hot cognition. Read his book to learn more about this topic.

To make your idea HOT – there are some key elements to bring up regarding the “opportunity” you are seizing. This will help you frame your pitch and place your idea as the solution to these red hot trends that you have identified.

Ex Idea: Urban Tiny house Community
1. What’s going on in the market? What market forces have lead you here?
ex: Rising rental costs in urban areas, higher youth population moving to urban areas that can’t afford the rent due to student loans. More younger populations are still living at home with parents or living above their means. 
2. What do these market forces mean from an economic sense? what is the value here?
ex. Show how the median income for the age bracket is the same as it was in the 1970’s yet the housing costs were significantly lower, correlate to a lower propensity to consume – show in simple math equation. This shows an economic need for more affordable housing.
3. What societal observations have you made that indicate this is going to happen now?
Tiny houses are growing in popularity across the US and with major television programming being dedicated to it, which has been shown to influence behavior, the movement is underway!

These can be difficult to think through and you may have to get creative. But they make your pitch intrigue go up if you can find things that tightly relate to your idea.

One more key point on this one… Make sure you are objective. You need to point out the risks involved and if other companies are doing it, point that out too. Calling out the risks is important because it shows you don’t have blinders on.

3. Show the innovation over something they know

David Burkus talks about finding a relative advantage in his HBR article, for your idea. I translate this to mean “Show them the evolution of your idea”. Essentially, show the audience how this idea is an improvement over something current – something they know.

4. Baby steps
The mind has fight or flight triggers that can make or break the audience’s acceptance of your idea. Like relative advantage and compatibility, you need to cultivate the audience’s senses. What I mean here is, “K.I.S.S.” or Keep It Simple Stupid. The higher up the food chain you go in bigger firms, the more you realize some managers are just not as open to new and novel as they think they are. The more complex your idea is, the less it’s likely to be accepted. 
Practice trimming your idea down to a minimally viable product and talking quickly through the value proposition. Figure out how you can explain the idea an value proposition in 30-60 seconds. Your mother or father are good people to try this on – if they get it after your 30 second pitch, then you might be ready for the boardroom. 
Last tip here – record yourself. I found that writing out what I want to say helps but then practicing this pitch over and again by recording it, playing it back, timing it, tweaking it – really helps hone in on your concise and directed messaging needed to win the audience over. Your iPhone has a voice memo function, use it! 
5. Seal the deal
OK – so you nailed the value proposition, you made the audience realize that the time is now, time to pull it all together. Tie up how those 3 factors (market, economics, social trends) made your idea. Show how this idea is compatible with currently known processes. Demonstrate how this idea is an evolution of the status quo. Bring it home with how you can physically monitor the success of the idea and your plan for doing so. 
Be concise when you start talking about your MVP or prototype test plan. They don’t want to hear the details of every waking minute you spend on this thing to get it off the ground. You need to state the hypothesis and how you will perform a test to understand if this hypothesis has merit. Talking about the new idea in terms of experimentation can reduce risk for the audience. It’s a good way of getting off the ground too – walking into this saying “I need $50K-$100K to see if this has any merit at all” vs. “$5,000 to $10,000 will allow me to run a small proof of concept” will go much further for the decision makers in the room. It shows, you are not reckless and you want to approach this with care (risk aversion also makes them relate to YOU). 
All done…not quite…
This takes considerably more work than just coming up with an idea and running it by your boss. There are a lot of sources out there for making a good pitch deck and tactics to use. My hope is that you use some or all of this to shape your idea, persevere and launch your innovation! Good luck and share your thoughts, additions, comments!