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.
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.