Creative ideas are everywhere. The world is replete with ideas from aspiring entrepreneurs, corporate managers to movie and ad makers. The hard one is the selling part. You are supposed to sell your brilliant 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 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.
The story very well relates to the fact that there are no “good ideas or bad ideas”. All ideas are brilliant. 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 pitcher 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.
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.
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 times, the decision makes have so much in 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 type casts 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.
Don’t be just a jug. Be a real pitcher.
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 and have 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 over sell: 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.
“Important point: the pitchers need to take the decision makers along with them on the creative process. That’s the way out. ”
It is easy to get eliminated through the negative typecasting and stereotyping of impressions on the pitchers. It is always that the negative impressions remain memorable. Research says that only 25 % of the pitchers take the decision makers along with them on the decision-making process.
Dr. Elsbach, has come up with three main classifications of pitchers based on their inherent qualities. I have re-interpreted them into the following three types of successful pitchers.
- The suave executive
- The passionately intense
- The happy-go-lucky
The secret in all of them is that they make it a point to involve the decision maker in the idea development process. They pull back on the pitching and allow the decision maker to collaborate on the idea and allow the story to be completed in the decision maker’s way. In this way, there is good chance that the pitcher might be able to sell his ideas. Each of them follows their own success principles. Let’s look at how each of them does this.
The savvy executive
These are the people who have the practical intelligence and passion to convince the decision-makers. They also have the know-how and the wherewithal to execute the idea to its implementation. They know all the best practices, how to “get the work done” and are well versed in meeting the execution costs within the budget. Such inherent qualities would bowl the decision makers over.
The savvy executive pitchers have the qualities to draw the decision makers into a kind of knowledge exchange. They can involve them in the idea development and are savvy enough to adapt to the situation, in case the discussion takes a change in the direction. They improvise “on the fly” and make moves to engage the decision maker to get his attention.
The intensely passionate
These pitchers would remind us of somebody from the movie “The absent-minded professor”. They are deeply passionate and very much attached to their ideas. They are less slick but are intensely focused in their world and their job. They conduct a series of thought experiments and lead the decision makers to an imaginary world. They are good storytellers and charm their way into the hearts of the decision makers.
They keep the decision makers absorbed in their stories. They carry them into their world and demonstrate that it could be done with a little bit of vision. Research shows that about “40% of successful pitchers are intensely passionate types”. Being genuine, wins the hearts of people. They are the most creative type of the three.
The happy go lucky types plead ignorance. They are humble and they project that they are inexperienced and truly, as they are in the art of pitching. They come across as eager learners, ever wanting to learn something new and exciting. They are curious and adopt the “attitude of the beginner”.
They treat the decision makers as their mentors and teachers. They naturally involve the decision makers into the collaborative idea development process early on. The decision makers are too happy to oblige. Many of the successful entrepreneurs fall in this classification and they constitute about 40 % of the pitchers. They achieve what they want by displaying these characteristics.
Why each one of us has the potential to be creative
With all these stereotyped classifications, decision makers cannot just go by them for creating positive impressions. There are always genuine creative people who do not fit into those stereotypes but can always execute and deliver.
Many Psychology models on how creative people would behave and act are off the track. Studies have shown that are there are so many personal characteristics that can be attributed to creative behavior and we believe that creative potential lies in each one of us. Being humble, down-to-earth, being aware, having a great interest in problem-solving and appreciating diversity are some of the traits that have been identified.
The decision makers cannot be swayed by these stereotyped positive impressions. They will have to rely on the merit of the ideas themselves rather than overlooking truly genuine creative individuals.
Pitchers would need to take care of the “positive cues” discussed earlier and yield part of their thoughts and ideas on to the decision makers. They would have to involve them in idea development processes.
So how can one make sure that both the pitcher and the decision maker have a worthwhile session spent together?
I would like to present the following qualities that should be imbibed by both the pitcher and decision maker. They could be useful in the preparation towards idea pitching meetings or presentation.
- The decision maker needs to make sure he asks for proper demonstration and validate the pitcher’s ideas through a finished prototype or a minimum viable product (MVP). This is more so in the case of “The intensely passionate” and “The happy go lucky” pitchers, who may not have the operational specifics. The past experiences and successes in case of “The Savvy executive” type.
- The pitcher should have the qualities of absorbing failures in an unpredictable and rapidly changing environment.
- The pitcher should learn the lessons from the mistakes and should have the attitude of celebrating the failures.
- The pitchers need to believe in themselves and build their own brand and reputation. Be comfortable in who they are. They need not rely on any of the three stereotyped positive impressions.
The difference between making the idea pitch a hit or not is very minimum as along as they understand that they need to rely on the power of collaboration for creative idea development and generation. These are some of the positive pathways where the brilliant ideas can move beyond the initial pitch and shine all the ways to become a successful enterprise.
image credit: Orlando Union Rescue Mission
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Ramkumar Yaragarla is a Global HRSS Programme Delivery manager at Hewlett Packard. With 15+ years of cross-functional experience in HR and Supply chain, he is a PRINCE 2 (Projects in Controlled Environments) certified practitioner. He manages global process improvement projects, and a global collaborative forum for sharing best practices and idea generation for innovation; plus collaborative workshops across all business domains. Previously at Dell, he received the Striker award in 2006.