Learning from HBR: How to say ‘I have an idea’

I have an idea

Saying “I have an idea”, is one of the most difficult thing these days seriously particularly, when you are pitching the idea to a business crowd. This article has been republished from last year from our archives with the title ” All ideas are good, we just need to make it brilliant”.

The content has been enhanced to be more readable and actionable for the audience. I would like to thank Dr. Kimberly from Harvard Business Review from whose article I have referred content for this post.

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Good ideas are everywhere. The world is replete with ideas from aspiring entrepreneurs, corporate managers to movie and ad makers. Saying ‘I have an idea’ is not enough. The hard one is the selling part.

You are supposed to sell your good ideas to a complete stranger or even to a team of decision makers. These strangers in their truest sense are actually decision makers who can either make or break your idea. In other words, these are the people, who can either leave your idea in the dumps or take it to the bigger league.

Dr. Kimberly D. Elsbach‘s article on HBR

Dr. Kimberly D. Elsbach is associate dean and a professor of organizational behavior at the Graduate School of Management, University of California.

Dr. Elsbach wrote at length about how to pitch a brilliant idea to the decision makers. This article was published in Harvard business review in the September 2003 issue. It was delightful to read through the contents of the article and we should be making use of the techniques and approaches mentioned there. You can click for the article here.

The story very well relates to the fact that there are no “good ideas or bad ideas”. All ideas are good.

The success or the failure of the idea or in other words, the idea taking off or not lies on the person who is pitching it or selling it, i.e. the pitcher.  The idea pitcher who says ‘I have an idea’, needs to be brilliant as well. It is the characteristics of the pitcher that matters.  Whether he is able to communicate his passion and articulate his idea in a convincing manner and his inherent qualities are the deciding factors.

Usually, the decision makers at the receiving end, view the idea’s worth from the pitcher’s abilities to project it “right”. The pitcher’s abilities usually overshadow the perception about the workability of the idea itself.

Pitcher Classifications

In all this milieu of things, there are some classifications that are made based on the characteristics of the pitcher.  The premise is that people generally judge us within few minutes of seeing us in action and neatly place us or classify us under some categories. So the good thing is that a pitcher needs to be wary of the fact the audience is judging and will show no mercy on that evaluation and this will have a lasting impression about the pitcher’s qualities and character.

Generally, there are no objective measures for measuring the elusive trait of creativity in a person. So the criteria for judgment is very subjective. In these scenarios, the pitcher needs to be smart to take the decision makers along with them for developing the idea during the presentation. Decision makers respond well to such suggestions on idea development.

Pitcher and stereotypes

Dr. Elsbach has made several observations of pitchers trying to communicate their ideas in a way to convince the decision makers. These observations range from the $ 50 billion US Television and the Movie Industry to other global corporate companies.

Many of us have built stereotypes on how a creative person would behave and act. Psychologically, these stereotypes play a major role in sifting through hundreds of presentations that pitchers make for the decision makers to evaluate.

Many a time, the decision makes have so much on their plate that they hardly have time to objectively evaluate the pitcher and the idea on pure merit. Rather they tend to put the pitcher in a pattern matching and typecasting fray. Such stereotyping is hardwired in the human psyche. It is rather unfair, but that’s how it has been.

Typical typecast characteristics of a creative person would be intuitiveness, sensitivity and being passionate and sometimes even youthful. These typecast are based on the direct or indirect experiences of the decision makers.

So in a typical evaluation of an idea presentation, the decision makers subconsciously award points to those pitchers who have those creative traits but punish those who do not fit or fit into negative stereotyping. A rapid process of elimination happens on the “No-Go” process based on the negative stereotypes exhibited by the pitchers.

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brilliant idea for rowing
brilliant idea for rowing

When you say ‘I have an idea’, Articulate your brilliant ideas to the decision makers.

A stark observation that only 1% of the ideas make it beyond the initial pitch. And why is that?

So how do pitchers stay away from these negative stereotypes? So before we launch ourselves into the classic stereotype classification of the pitchers, let’s look at the “do’s” or “positive cues” that a pitcher needs to take care so as not to kill an idea presentation.

The pitcher needs to demonstrate passion in his ideas:

There may be times when the decision makers pinpoint concerns on the idea and doubt its execution. But it is in our best interest to safeguard our ideas or rather the concept of  ‘I have an idea’ and have a proper response on the actions and recourse that needs to be taken to make the ideas workable.

Do not present ideas in a bookish fashion:

It has been noticed that sometimes pitchers present their cases in a formulaic fashion going from one point to another. Their responses and talk are overdone and packaged from a power point presentation. We need to avoid such bookish talk. It has to be more natural, being extempore and story needs to flow.

Do not oversell:

It is better not to over-sell. Keep you calm and not be argumentative. Know when to be silent and be genuine.

Do not plead:

Have confidence. Believe in yourself and the idea. Do not keep pleading beyond a point that you need finances. Things and destiny will always take its natural course.

Have confidence. Believe in yourself and the idea. Do not keep pleading beyond a point that you need finances. Things and destiny will always take its natural course.

Important point: the pitchers need to take the decision makers along with them on the creative process. That’s the way out. ”

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24 simple approaches to generate new ideas at workplace

Brighton beach, Creative ideas

24 simple approaches to generate new ideas at workplace

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Good ideas just happen. We just need to be aware. The ideas are all around us. They just pop up out of nowhere. Everyone has the potential to be creative. It is not connected to the innate intelligence we all possess nor it is an aptitude. It is in the way we live, work and enjoys.

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What is creativity? Then…

Creativity is a random act of awareness, which pops out of nowhere and usually and always turns a raw or an unrefined thing into something beautiful, real and of great value.

Creative easter egg idea
Creative Easter egg idea

Creativity is Ubiquitous. The “Creativity at work” blog says Creativity is the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality. Wikipedia on Creativity  says that, Creativity is a phenomenon whereby something new or somehow valuable is formed. The created item is usually intangible.

Brian Clegg and Paul Birch wrote in their book “Instant creativity” that Creativity is illusive. There is an “artistic creativity” which involves writing a book or producing a piece of music and then there is the “creativity of discovery”, here we discover or invent new products and things and then finally there is the “creativity of Humor” which involves seeing the world differently. From the perspective of organizational, business or work challenges, creativity or solving with creative ideas usually involves all the three aspects of creativity.

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What are the practical challenges for having creative ideas?

Different colour pencils
Challenges are many

From an organizational or a business context, creativity is not a fancy nice to have feature anymore. In fact, without it very few companies would have survived today. When solving our work challenges, without a creative idea, we would be looking at the same problem day in and day out, without viewing it from a different frame of mind. Old problems would still remain.

We may just accept the need for creativity and acknowledge it by recruiting a few creative people from the market to serve our needs. It is good in a way, but we are missing to solve our work challenges through our own creative ideas. We may not know, our ideas may be the best and we are the ones who know the problems better than the paid external talent.

Everyone has the creative potential and it is just that we are not aware of it and therefore not using it. Some have even suppressed it.  There could be many reasons.

The reasons for not using our creativity could be many. It could be that we are not in the right mood, or it is the wrong timing and also it could be in the way we have been educated. We know it or not the major emphasis on today’s education is focused on getting the right answer or the required answer rather than coming up with a creative solution.

Many of us would have come through an education system which lays emphasis on regurgitation. Our examinations force us to write answers which the examiners want rather than writing creative answers or offering creative solutions to problems.  Even in the corporate business environments, there is no chance for failure the focus is more on quick results.

But it is only through failures that we learn. Failures shouldn’t matter to us. It is only through facing them that we will achieve creativity. Everyone should be given a free hand to express and contribute. Knowing that you would fail shouldn’t be ridiculed.

The other areas are psychological which involve having a tunnel vision, which is not being able to see beyond one’s immediate activity having a narrow view of things and then there is also the lack of inspiration.

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Practical approaches to adopt to solve challenges at work

The approaches mentioned here, willingly take you off from a well proven established viewpoint to compel you to do something which you otherwise wouldn’t do. This would be uncomfortable in the beginning but it slowly leads you on to the path of generating creative ideas.

When you follow these methods, it is natural that you come up with something that is entirely different. It is an opportunity to look at your work challenges from a fresh perspective and from a different frame of mind.

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Practical method 1:  Ask the question “What’s the Problem”?

 

Have a cup of tea
What’s the problem, have a cup of tea

This addresses the question what’s the problem within your current work area. Generating creative ideas is generally a two-step process where it involves individually approaching the problem as well as taking help of the group. As an individual, you come up with an initial rough idea and then you develop and refine those creative ideas better with a group.

Let’s look at some practical ways in addressing “what’s the problem ?”. This aims at coming up with an appropriate set of requirements. Initially, we may not know what we may need. The question may not be clear in the beginning. But after a series of “How to” questioning or questions, something begins to emerge.

  1. New pathways

Here, this method is used to find the real work challenge or the problem underlying the problem statement. We need to keep asking the question “Why” when somebody uses the question “How to”. We keep asking “Why” a lot of times. This keeps continuing for some time till we reach a situation where each ‘Why” question becomes a “How to” question on its own.

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How to build your best ideas from your mistakes ?

best ideas from mistakes

How to build your best ideas from your mistakes ?

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The best ideas emerge when we make mistakes.There are always best ideas, good ideas and bad ideas. We need to learn from our mistakes.The ideas that actually lead us to innovation don’t appear yet. We need to work on it. When it does come (best ideas that lead to innovation) we hardly remember the dead ones. Such is life.

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The example of Wright Brothers

Wright brothers, best ideas
First aircraft

As an example, we have taken the case of Wright brothers who have invented the airplane in 1903.  The brothers drew from the power of collaboration. It is indicated that, the brothers constantly exchanged new ideas, discussed and thought together. They even played together when they were kids.

We need to understand here that everything they did was a result of conversations and discussions between them. Through this collaboration they made several alterations and modifications to their invention and finally it all pieced together in 1903.

They didn’t experience a single moment of insight. Rather it was the culmination of many successive ideas over many months and years that resulted in their invention. One spark led to another and so on.

There are many such examples. We need to understand and listen to the moments of interaction that we have with ourselves, our environment and with the world. The secret lies in the unraveling of such moments.

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The 5 essential features for building best ideas

We have highlighted 5 essentials that any person or a group need to follow to unravel the best ideas from the worldly interactions and from our own past mistakes.

  1. Innovation emerges over time – Great innovation happens over time. We need to give it sufficient time for it to unfold itself. Small incremental ideas will eventually lead to bigger ideas.
  2. Practice observing and listening to others ideas – We need to have the patience and listen to others ideas as well and at the same time come up with our own ideas.
  3. Allow your ideas to be reinterpreted and reapplied – When you allow your ideas to be reinterpreted and reapplied that’s when the ideas get full importance. They get importance only after they get taken up.
  4. Recognize that everybody has a role to play – Apply the approach of going bottoms up. Giving equal importance to everybody in the team serves the purpose. When an innovation does happen, it is always surprising that no one individual would have through about it.
  5. Improvise, make many hits and errors –When we improvise there are always many hits and errors. The hits are amazing and astonishing. The hits (best ideas) would have never been noticed earlier.

When we collaborate and share, the whole is greater than the sum of parts. Creative groups are formed spontaneously and we started looking at the old problem in a new frame. Sparks fly.

Ref:  Keith Sawyer, Group Genius, The creative power of collaboration, Basic books, 2007

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Also read, How innovative companies get help from academic research

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