Thursday, July 15, 2010

MEDIAPOST: Avoiding The Place Where Good Ideas Go To Die

Success in business comes from a combination of luck, talent and timing. In fact it’s my personal opinion, and one that I’ve used for a very, very long time, that success in life comes from a combination of luck, talent and timing. If you can coordinate 2 of 3 of these in the same place, at the same time, for an extended period, then good things can happen.

Of course the antithesis of this philosophy can be process.

The phrases “process paralysis” and “death by committee” are universally known and equally frustrating to me, because I’ve personally witnessed too many good ideas go into a meeting and never come out. I’m certainly person who relies on structure, but I also know when a good idea steps up and smacks you in the face that you need to move quickly. You need to make decisions and you need to take a shot. As Wayne Gretzky once famously said, “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. Truer words were never uttered in any line of work.

Of course, I will caveat that I don’t advocate jumping in without a net. I firmly believe in stating a case, justifying it with a well thought-out and substantiated rationale, and making a logical test, but these things can be done quickly and they don’t need to be killed in committee! Some of the most successful campaigns I’ve ever worked on were the ones born out of a simple creative idea, sold through quickly, and tested with a simple, clearly stated goal in mind.

To help you avoid the dreaded death by committee, here are some tips for how to prepare an idea and get the most out of the room, hopefully enabling you to achieve success with your ideas:

1. Follow the pseudo-scientific method: Observation, Hypothesis, Action

It’s not the exact scientific method that PhD’s and doctors use, but its close enough. Start out by making an observation that everyone in the room will recognize. Keep it simple and concise. Then, form a hypothesis for what you’re looking to test, and recommend a simple course of action that will allow you to see results via definable, measurable actions.

2. State your case clearly, and stop talking.

The worst thing you can do when pitching an idea is keep talking. You need to speak clearly, with confidence and conviction, to present your idea. You have to make sense, and get to the point, then allow it to sink in. Let the room process your idea, and allow them to ask questions. Let them make your case for you. Let them guide the flow of the discussion. The power of a period and a pause in your sentence can never be over-stated, so make good use of it.

3. Prepare your support information.

Try to anticipate the questions your audience will ask and answer them in advance. Practice your pitch with someone you trust and let them ask the questions they anticipate you will be asked. That will help you to prep the responses you’ll need in advance.

4. Prep the decision makers before you enter the room.

Too many people forget that you should be making the case before you enter the room. All good lobbyists do it; they know the outcome of the vote before the vote even takes place. It’s simple politics, and it works. You seed the idea to the key decision makers in advance, letting them know that you value their opinion. Get their feedback, and integrate it into the idea. Know what their reactions will be before you make the pitch.

5. (This one is sneaky) Put the right people in the room.

Yes – this is sneaky. Be sure you know who will be in the room, and don’t invite the wrong people. There are the born “devil’s advocate” people and the “homeostasis” people who only exist to find balance, meaning argue your ideas. These are the people who don’t applaud change, and are risk avoidance specialists. If you can avoid having these people being a part of the decision making team, you should try it. If they have to be involved, spend special time with them in advance and get them on-board before you put the idea to a vote.

I know some of these sound a bit sketchy (sort of loading the deck, if you will), but they’re not. They simply allow you to put yourself in a position to make a move and live with the consequences while also fully thinking through your ideas. If you aren’t willing to live with the results and admit defeat if it comes, then you shouldn’t be pitching your ideas in the first place. If you believe in what you’re saying, and you have confidence in the outcome, then put yourself out there and see what you can do! Success rarely rewards the man (or woman) who doesn’t take a chance.