Got an exciting new idea and want to get it past the boss? Yeah. Good luck with that.
No. I’m kidding. I’m going to help you.
Innovative thinkers often face an uphill – and, yes, sometimes impossible – battle at established organizations. Often, the older and more established the organization, the more resistant it is to innovation. Unfortunately, this “That’s-the-way-we’ve-always-done-things-and-we’re-not-going-to-change-things-now” attitude can signal the death knell of entire industries.
Case in point: the newspaper industry, now a mere shadow of its former self. Newsrooms full of middle-aged white men convinced of the security of their positions were given ample warnings of the coming tech revolution – all of which they, dismissing the internet as a “fad” and insisting that “People will always read newspapers.” Not true of course. Now they’ve all lost their jobs. Sad for them. Frustrating for those who saw it coming, and offered solutions – only to be rebuffed over and over again.
If you’ve got an idea and are facing down the VP or VPs of No, here are some tips for getting the green light – and maybe even garnering active support.
Make friends. You’re more likely to listen to someone with whom you have a good relationship, right? So, make friends with the people you want to convince. Find common ground on which to have conversations. Offer to pick up coffee. Do whatever you normally do when trying to make friends (unless you don’t have any friends, in which case, Google “How to make friends”). Don’t be sycophantic or annoying. Be nice and be interested in people.
Ask for advice. You know how to make someone think you’re smart? Make them think you think they’re smart. This is backed up by recent research. Study co-author Alison Wood Brooks explains that when you ask someone for advice:
“They reason, ’I’m brilliant (of course), so this guy’s smart for asking for my advice.’ And by asking someone to share his or her wisdom, a person strokes the adviser’s ego and can gain valuable insights. Indeed, seeking guidance from others encourages information exchange and meaningful connection between us and our friends and colleagues.”
The upshot of this is that if they think you’re smart, they’re more likely to seriously consider your ideas.
Introduce the idea slowly. You might want to wow them with a big presentation and bring it on home, but, depending on how outlandish your idea is compared with the status quo, you might want to try planting the seed first instead of hitting them over the head with a brand new concept. Introduce the concept into casual conversation, forward a few articles you think are interesting, familiarize your peers and superiors with it and let it linger in the general atmosphere before going full throttle.
Make them think it was their idea. This only works if you don’t care about credit. But if you want to go this route, you can pepper your conversations with things like “As you’ve noted in the past (insert important related observation finessed to serve your purposes),” until they are convinced they came up with the idea themselves and that it’s awesome.
Arm yourself with examples. Once you do set that meeting, make sure you’re prepared. Know what you want to do, why you want to do it, and how you want to do it. Also have examples of other people, competitors perhaps, who have successfully done something similar, and demonstrate how they have benefited. eg: “Company A implemented this technology a year ago and have seen revenue increases of 140%!”
Go over their head. This should be a last resort. But if you’ve already tried everything else, maybe you have nothing to lose. Before doing this, think about how badly you want to keep you job, even if it is a position at a place where people aren’t interested in your ideas, because those higher up might still reject them, and you might sour your relationship with your direct superior. Is it worth it? Maybe.
Just know that you should be prepared to walk if things do go badly. But you can take your idea with you – and show it to people who might listen.
New technologies are rapidly changing the business landscape. You can’t afford to let complacent personalities stand in the way of innovation.
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