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How to get people to listen to and like your ideas


Once you have a brilliant new idea, it’s a no-brainer that people will immediately see the value and potential, right?

Wrong. The most common reaction to a great idea isn’t immediate recognition. For many great ideas, when first presented to an audience, the initial reaction is rejection.

Why do great ideas get rejected? It all boils down to risk.

Risk and uncertainty

Creativity brings uncertainty, a problem for many people. Neuroscientists argue that uncertainty registers in the brain as an “error, gap, or tension: something that must be corrected before one can feel comfortable again.” Uncertainty actually triggers a threat response, increasing levels of adrenalin and dopamine in the brain.

Even though people say they want creative ideas, many actually feel threatened by creativity. They might perceive change or risk as threatening their livelihoods or their status.

Often people don’t realise the old isn’t working – they say “I’m successful – why change what got me here so far?” But that’s exactly the point – it got you here, but it isn’t necessarily enough to get you there!

Most often they value the certainty of the old at the expense of the new, regardless of its brilliance. It threatens the comfort zone of the status quo, the established ideas they already know.

The hierarchy of no

Within organisations this becomes even more pronounced, as ideas make their way through a multi-stage approval process, with managers at each level judging the idea against their own appetite for risk, usually linked to motivations to preserve their own business units or careers.

As a result, this “hierarchy of no” causes even the most brilliant ideas to fizzle out before they get to see the light of day.

“The reformer has enemies in all who profit by the old order.” – Machiavelli

But breakthrough ideas are inherently unpredictable and uncertain. Every creative idea is a risk – in that it is new, it hasn’t been tried before, and you don’t know what the exact results will be. A creative project is like a voyage of discovery, where many things are unknown.

The opposite is to take the safe, conservative approach, avoiding risk wherever possible. But there are no exciting, groundbreaking ideas here. Innovation depends on embracing risk and the possibility of failure. This is a key theme in many of our workshops.

So how do you persuade people to buy in to new ideas?

Building your case

First, acknowledge the strength of the status quo and the preference for safe, tried & tested. People need to know if the value of a new, untested idea will exceed that of the old, established and proven way of doing things.

So put yourself in their shoes and acknowledge their natural, human reaction to the riskiness of the ideas you’re presenting to them.

Assuage their fears where possible. One way to do this is by showing your thinking process. If people can see the rationale behind your ideas, they might be more likely to arrive at the same conclusion as you. Similarly, it can be useful to break big ideas or projects down into small steps, so it’s easier to see a logical order to things.

Highlight your track record. Your audience might be wondering, can we trust the quality of this person’s ideas? Demonstrate your thorough understanding of the relevant issues, and your past successes in similar endeavours.

Shifting their view

Explain to them why the old approach isn’t working any more, and why the new approach is profoundly better. Comparing the potential of the new with the limitations of the old can help make the case for change more obvious.

In focusing on potential, try and shift their focus from negatives to positives. If you can demonstrate that the pros of your idea outweigh the cons, it might make it easier for them to rationalise the value of taking the risk.

Many people resist change or new ideas because they fear a loss of control. Involve them in the process where possible, or offer them a key role in the new order so they can become active partners and share in future successes.

Highlight the urgency of the problem if new ideas aren’t adopted. What’s the opportunity cost of sticking with the status quo?

Is there a way to test the idea to demonstrate initial results to your client or colleague to help them see the potential?

Consider sharing what you will do if the idea doesn’t go as planned. How will you minimise the impact of a possible failure? What are your exit plans to mitigate losses?

Finally, recognise that since an aversion to risk is natural, you’ll need to be persistent in the face of repeated rejection. Build your resilience in dealing with knock-backs and be patient and persistent with clients or colleagues who administer them.

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