The Innovation – Communication Connection: Why So Many Great Ideas Get Shot Down – And What You Can Do About It
How many times every day do you imagine a brilliant concept is presented to a decision-maker, only to be shot down and buried forever?
How many creative geniuses do you think are really able to effectively communicate and present their ideas to others? Not everyone is a Steve Jobs. In fact, very few of us are. Which is one of the key reasons why Steve Jobs is, well, Steve Jobs.
Creativity and innovative thinking don’t really require clear, effective communication. Big brained scientists with minimal social skills think up mind-blowing ideas in the privacy of their labs every day. But true innovation requires that those remarkable, game-changing ideas make it through the gauntlet of judgment and criticism, all the way through to completion, where they can deliver real, lasting value. That simply cannot happen if no one knows about them and enthusiastically supports them. And that requires effective communication and presentation skills.
As Howard H. Aiken is quoted as saying, “Don’t worry about people stealing an idea. If it’s original, you will have to ram it down their throats.” And while ramming it down their throats might not always be required, a little persuasion almost always will be.
Communication is the often forgotten, essential component of innovation. True, it’s not as sexy as all those other components we love reading about, things like creative ideation, strategic implementation, enhanced value, disruptive technology, elegant design and a dozen or so other overused buzz words. But in the end, if your big idea is not clearly and persuasively presented to your collaborators and decision makers, it will simply wither on the vine.
We’ve all seen it happen, especially in a group brainstorm session. Someone at the table has an idea, a good idea, one they love and that has real merit. Unfortunately, they don’t have the confidence and expertise to articulate it persuasively. A louder voice and bigger ego in the room shoots it down, and there it lies. Sometimes a supportive comrade will pick up the idea and champion it to the group. But if a skilled communicator doesn’t take up the challenge, it’s dead.
The good news is that communication and presentation skills can be learned and mastered by anybody. As with any other discipline, there are simple, proven methods and techniques that can help you speak with authority and influence the opinions and decisions of others. So if you are going to be an effective innovator, or even a contributor to the innovation process, you had better start boning up on your communication skills.
Here are a few tips to help you sell your next big idea…
- Know What You’re Trying to Achieve – Before you open your mouth, think for a moment about what you want your words to actually accomplish. Are you trying to convince someone that your idea is the best there is, or simply one of several worthy of further consideration? Are you attempting to get final approval for your idea or simply create the opportunity to present it up the chain of command? Is your idea fully fleshed out or just an embryonic concept? Such things can have a profound impact on what you say and how you say it. So take a moment or two to think about what you wish to achieve before you speak, and you will have a much better chance of choosing the best words to help you attain your goal.
- Know Who You’re Talking To – One of the great revelations most people have when mastering communication and presentation skills is that their audience often doesn’t really care all that much about what they have to say. In fact, the people you present your idea to only care about one thing… what’s in it for them. To sell your idea, you need to understand ahead of time what the other person’s agenda is, what their goals and objectives are in a given situation, and then frame your communication in the best way possible to let them know you understand, and that your idea can help them achieve their goals. Will your idea make them (or their team) look good? Could it result in a bonus or praise from management? Is it so risky that they might be hesitant to support it? Remember this number one secret of great communicators – know your audience well, and tell them what they need to hear. That is persuasive communication.
- Know What You’re Going to Say – Seems obvious, right? But how many times have you opened your mouth and realized, almost immediately, that you were saying precisely the wrong thing at precisely the wrong time? If you’ve taken a few moments to focus on the first two steps, this third one becomes a lot easier. What do you have to say to this person in order to get them to respond the way you would like them to, right now? That’s precisely what you want to say at precisely this moment.
- Know How You’re Going to Say It – As the saying goes, you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar. Of course, you can kill a lot more with a flyswatter. Too meek or too bold an approach will not do the trick when presenting an idea for approval. How you deliver your message can be just as important as the message itself. Consider the situation. Is the mood upbeat and congenial or tense and combative? Are ideas being shot down faster than they can be spoken, or is everyone being overly supportive and not really giving anything real, critical evaluation? Are you on a tight deadline or do you have time to spare? Take the temperature in the room before you start selling. Make sure your manner and tone are confident, but appropriate.
Is it really possible to do all of this in the middle of a brainstorm, or even a business presentation? Of course. Masterful communicators and presenters do it every day. It just takes a little awareness, attention and practice. Don’t wait until your job depends on it. Start using these four simple communication tips today. In no time you will be able to consider all of these things in just a few seconds.
Many people think that being a confident, persuasive communicator is something you’re just born with. Nothing could be further from the truth. Communication is a skill. Learn it, master it, become a more valuable part of the innovation cycle – and start seeing more your ideas become a reality.