LinkedIn | Ideas For Sale: 9 Tips For Getting People to Buy Into Your Brilliance

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Six years ago, Craig Hatkoff, co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival, approached me about a brainstorm: an event recognizing and celebrating breakthrough innovators. When I suggested to Clayton Christensen that we partner with Hatkoff to create the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards, Clay’s response was: I trust you Whitney.  If you say we should, let’s do it.  In 2010, the first year, the event was fledgling, but charming.  But over the years, we’ve featured luminaries such as Jack Dorsey of Twitter, Garrett Camp of Uber, famed choreographer Twyla Tharp, and Gangnam style pop artist Psy.

How I wish that all my ideas received this kind of reception! Rarely have I had that kind of immediate trust and social currency when proposing something new.  More often, I’ve experienced the opposite reaction:  what I consider genius ideas have been greeted with blank faces, disapproving stares, and occasionally the outright smackdown.

One of the single biggest frustrations for many of us is having a brilliant idea only to discover it can’t get traction. Of course, sometimes the idea isn’t great, but what if it is?

Whether you are shopping an idea or yourself in search of a new job, you can't make a sale until you find a buyer.

Here’s an example—the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) recently announced a Coalition of businesses and organizations that are implementing a range of parental workplace support practices that will improve health, development, and economic outcomes for both families and companies. The Working Parent Support Coalition is the brainchild of Luciana Nunez, CEO of Early Life Nutrition in the US at Danone.  Nunez dreams of the top ten employers in the U.S.  joining to offer better conditions for working parents like breaks for breastfeeding moms and longer paid parental leave. I don’t have to explain why her idea isn’t the most popular one in the business world. But, it is gaining traction.

Because getting buy-in for an idea is crucial to climbing an S-curve of disruption, I was curious about Luciana's process.  Based on her experience of building this coalition, here are nine suggestions for selling your own big ideas:

  1. Be clear on what you want to accomplish and why it matters.Luciana wants the top ten U.S. employers to voluntarily step up their parental support programs as this will lay the groundwork for other companies to commit to improving the lives of working families.
  2. Identify who your stakeholders are and figure out how to get their attention.  Knowing it would be difficult to get big business on board, including her own employer, she began by building a case and recruiting the support of CGI which is known for helping private and public organizations partner to solve some of the world’s pressing problems.

    Once CGI became involved, she reached out to her own company, Danone, which is made up of seven different entities (including Dannon, Danone Waters, Stonyfield, Happy Family, Nutricia, and her own company Early Life Nutrition) in the US.  With the larger entities in, the smaller ones followed. Having a multi-billion dollar company in her corner sends the message that this initiative merits serious consideration.

  3. Set aside your ego. Luciana’s default mode is “warrior”— going from A to B as fast and effectively as she could, picking her battles, and achieving “must wins.” For the coalition, she had to put her outer warrior aside and find her inner diplomat. As she puts it, “I have to dance in the moment, put myself into others shoes to figure out why they would want to be a part of it.”
  4. Consider how what you want maps to what your stakeholders want.  Luciana thinks about the emotional and functional jobs her stakeholders want to do. The emotional appeal was easy, “It's moms and babies, and everybody cares about that,” she said. To speak to the business side, she did the hard work of identifying relevant research and authorities such as Families and Work Institute, and bringing them on board. Though there are other coalitions and people working toward parental support in the workplace, her secret sauce has been identifying key constituencies, from businesses to NGOs to think tanks, and tapping into measurable outcomes around their respective missions.
  5. Recruit help. Part and parcel of setting aside her ego was recruiting help from counterparts at parent company Danone, members of her team, as well as human resources.  As internal stakeholders have come to share her passion, they are now tireless advocates and have been instrumental in bringing others on board throughout her company.
  6. Translate. Luciana changes her pitch every time she speaks with someone. “I try to be prepared to know what they care about, and if I don't know I try to first get a sense for why they should care…adapting to the audience and making a case that appeals to both mind and heart is everything.” Being fluent in several languages she instinctively knows that sometimes you need to translate your ideas, even when everyone in the room is speaking English.
  7. Get to ‘no' quickly.  Despite using her best pitch and finding common ground, the alignment may not be there.  When that was the case, rather than fixating on trying to get to say yes, she moved on.
  8. Be persistent. Luciana saw something broken and was determined to try to fix it.  “People call it passion, but I know that it's just something I feel I must do to be at peace with myself,” she said. Despite setbacks, she didn't give up and will continue to drive forward until she has the top 10 top organizations signed on.
  9. Express gratitude. Whether stakeholders decide to buy in or not, thank them for their consideration. Chances are their reservations will help strengthen your brilliant idea.

The ability to jump to a new vision or product or job almost always requires that those around us, our fellow stakeholders, also jump to a new curve of learning. If you’re looking for a break for your breakthrough ideas, prepare carefully for your giant leap—and others will leap with you.

Whitney Johnson is the author of Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work, one of Amazon's Best Business and Leadership Books for October, 2015


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