Have you ever gotten a less-than-encouraging response to what you thought was your best idea yet? Rest assured, it’s not always because your idea is useless! There are a few common factors behind rejections.
For one thing, voicing an opinion that threatens to upset the status quo can be a threat to your business career and your network. A massive study conducted across nonprofit, service, retail and manufacturing companies revealed that the more frequently employees voiced their ideas and concerns to their superiors, the less likely they were to receive raises and promotions over a two-year period.
This is quite a troubling trend! So, what can you do to get people on board with your ideas? Strangely enough, your best option is to tell people why they should not accept your proposals. Start by being open about the shortcomings of your projects; this will surprise your audience and show them that you’re an honest person regardless of the situation.
This is what entrepreneur couple Rufus Griscom and Alisa Volkman did when presenting their online parenting magazine and blog network “Babble” to potential backers. To their audience’s great surprise, Griscom was up-front and told them that their website’s user engagement was lower than they’d expected, 40 percent of the news on the site was taken up by seemingly irrelevant celebrity gossip and their back end was in major need of an update.
Though it sounds like they were shooting themselves in the foot, investors were charmed by their approach. They trusted them, and Babble brought in $3.3 million in funding before being acquired by Disney in 2011.
Do you think you look better in the mirror or in a candid photo? Most of us would prefer the reflection we see in the bathroom. Photos of ourselves can be cringeworthy and off-putting. Why is this? Well, because we’re seeing ourselves from an unfamiliar angle. It’s a classic human tendency to reject things that aren’t familiar to us – even our own images!
As you might have guessed, this presents another hurdle to dreaming up original ideas. But there are strategies you can implement to make even the most conventional coworker feel comfortable with your unorthodox solutions.
One of these is the mere exposure effect, where repeating yourself will give others time to warm up to your ideas. Research shows that exposing people to new ideas more often will make them more receptive over time. So, speak up and repeat yourself!
To make this easier, keep your ideas short and snappy, blend them with other ideas to show their different applications and be prepared to keep pushing your solutions for as long as necessary. Keep at it, and you’ll be surprised by how your peers’ responses improve!
Another useful strategy for making new ideas seem less controversial is to frame them in a familiar context. When the idea for the animated classic The Lion King was first pitched to Disney, producers were initially turned off by its dark storyline.
But in a meeting between scriptwriters and Disney executives, CEO Michael Eisner and producer Maureen Donley turned things around by highlighting the film’s similarities to Shakespeare’s King Lear and Hamlet. This was enough to persuade the producers, who were much more enthusiastic once the unconventional storyline was tied to a common point of reference.
The Lion King went on to become 1994’s highest-grossing film and the recipient of two Academy Awards. This example illustrates how great ideas can become a reality when their novelty is offset with familiar elements to win support.
Regardless of what you’re pursuing, if you only listen to people who praise you, you probably won’t get very far. It might not be pleasant, but sometimes you need a bit of criticism to help you grow.
This was illustrated in a pivotal experiment by psychologist Charlan Nemeth. Groups of participants were asked to hire one of three possible job candidates. The first candidate, John, was presented as having the best skillset for the job.
Even so, some of the participants showed a preference for the less qualified candidate, Ringo. But when some participants argued in favor of the third candidate, George, the chance that the participants would end up hiring the best-qualified candidate quadrupled. How can we make sense of this?
By throwing a minority opinion into the mix that differs from the two leading views, the consensus is disrupted. Group members are then pushed to assess the situation for themselves and not simply follow what others are thinking. This is a great strategy to break up groupthink and encourage everyone to share their real opinions.
Groupthink occurs when people organized in groups prioritize avoiding conflict and reaching consensus over making the best choice possible. This concept, developed by Yale research psychologist Lester Irving Janis, is the underlying problem in poor team decision making. Another way to prevent groupthink hindering your own creativity is to surround yourself with people who constantly question your ideas.
This was the strategy used by Ben Kohlmann, a founding member of the Chief of Naval Operations’ Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC), when his team began to work on innovative ideas for the navy. They succeeded in creating a whole range of creative solutions and were even the first to bring a 3D printer on a ship to print spare parts in case something broke while at sea.
This creativity wouldn’t have been possible without the powerful group dynamic that emerged as a result of Kohlmann’s calculated decision making. He chose junior officers with a track record of facing discipline as a result of challenging authority. Though these officers all had their own backgrounds and objectives, uniting their disruptive mindset with a common goal created the perfect environment for creativity.
Though you might have a network of people who share the same goals and values as you, it’s no guarantee that they’ll support your ideas. If you want dependable allies, you need to win over your peers by hitting the right tone in your messaging. The trick is not to go over the top, but also to keep people interested.
Though we tend to think that common goals are what brings a team together, research has shown that the opposite is true. Dartmouth College psychologists Judith White and Ellen Langer illustrate this finding through the theory of horizontal hostility; this is a form of prejudice that surfaces in relationships between members of the same minority group.
For instance, the most dedicated members of radical political groups tend to attack each other more than they confront impostors and sell-outs within their movement, even though they share the same set of core values.
You can avoid horizontal hostility in your team by making your ideas seem a little less radical. To do this, you’ll need a disguise – or even a Trojan horse! The goal is, after all, not to convince people to change their attitudes entirely, but to connect with the values you know they already believe in.
Meredith Perry, the inventor of wireless power solutions for charging electronic equipment, received little support when she first presented her ideas to her physics professors and engineers. They all unanimously agreed that it was simply not possible at the time to charge electronic devices through waves passing through the air. So what did Perry do? She changed her tactics and used a Trojan horse.
By disguising her idea and telling people that she simply wanted to design a transducer, and not one that sent power wirelessly, she received a lot more support: her idea was interesting, but not too far-fetched. Collaborators and funders were much more willing to team up with her, and Perry was able to create her product and company, uBeam, which today provides innovative wireless charging solutions.
As we can see, it’s not enough simply to have creative ideas – you have to know how to find the right supporters and collaborators to make them a reality.
Unleash your creative potential by developing lots of ideas and sharing your best ones with others. To further boost your creativity, surround yourself with disruptive thinkers and make them feel comfortable about sharing their opinions. Learn to make your original idea seem familiar, accessible and appealing to get the support you need, and you’ll be ready to turn your unique plans into real-world solutions.
Check out my related post: How to sharpen your memory through the Zeigarnik effect?