There’s never been a better time in history for people who have new ideas.
Last month, Kickstarter surpassed $1 billion raised for creative projects. ABC’s Shark Tank has brought the world of venture capital into the mainstream, to the tune of $44 million invested. And New York startup Quirky is making waves by crowdsourcing product ideas and quickly creating them–taking in more than $100 million in revenue last year.
These services are wonderful ways to open new avenues for introducing innovations without going through traditional corporate channels. But what happens when you need to stay within those channels? How can you best introduce your new idea in a corporate environment that is matrixed and complex? Here are some key strategies that have helped my clients achieve new-idea liftoff in major heavyweight environments.
No matter how great you think your idea may be, you have to connect with your leadership’s vision and outcome objectives. If they need a 100-calorie product to compete and your idea would require 110 calories, you’re out of luck. Your product idea could be absolutely delicious and innovative. But if your idea doesn’t align with their priorities, you’d better figure out a way to make it so.
When you introduce a new idea, you are creating change. In his “theory of roughness,” mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot pointed out that from a distance, a coastline may look smooth. But the closer you get, the more you begin to see that it is actually jagged. Similarly, though new ideas may look smooth from far away, in reality they can be quite “jagged.”
So, to navigate the jagged pathway to creating change, you have to stay flexible. Like sailing against the wind, you have to keep adjusting to the winds of feedback. Every gust of wind is like a setback or a critique from leadership. But you must keep adjusting your sails and keep pressing on in the direction of your goal.
Part of the difficulty of introducing a new idea is ensuring that your audience understands just what it is you’re trying to get across. Given how much thought you’ve put into your idea, it can be frustrating when someone else isn’t getting onboard and doesn’t see the value or even understand what you mean.
One way to help influence them is to create an appealing image. When you position a change in terms of an attractive image, you are helping your audience see and appreciate your idea.
Here’s a real-life example of this in action:
In the early 1980s, I was hired by Ford’s Task Force of Excellence to help them communicate a new idea up and down their organization. They wanted to introduce the value of transforming Ford from a company of silos and rigid rules to a culture of collaboration and flexibility. I suggested they show pictures of Ford through its history, pictures that emphasized the tradition of change that was part of the company’s greatness–greatness that came from changing the automobile market with the Model T, greatness that came from changing American industry with the assembly line, and greatness that came from promoting the $5-per-day wage so employees could buy the cars they were producing. The image was appealing, the new idea caught on, and the transformation began.
In corporate culture, the bigger the idea, the thinner the line between excitement and anxiety. A little excitement can be a good thing: You want to demonstrate that you are passionate about your idea and that you truly believe in it. But if you have too much excitement, you will cross the line and trigger anxiety. Where you see an exciting opportunity, some people may see a risky proposition.
For example, I was hired by a rapidly growing grocery chain to help revise its process for approving the building of new stores. The leaders of the chain were concerned that their proposal committee was missing critical proposal details because they were being taken in by the excitement of the pitches. For them, too much excitement meant too much risk. So, I helped them create a dispassionate proposal process that ratcheted down the emotion factor and ratcheted up the analytic framework to increase their confidence in making big bets on new stores.
Remember: Big ideas equal big risk. Introduce your idea with conviction, but not fervor.
Coming up with innovative ideas is a great way to make huge contributions to your company. And seeing your ideas implemented can be extremely rewarding. But to maximize your chance to succeed, you must be strategic. By following these strategies, you will not only succeed in introducing innovations into your company, you will also position yourself as an innovative leader–a bright talent with a long, big runway.