How to stop good ideas from being shot down

Jeffrey Pfeffer says that there are 4 ways that good ideas get shot down:

  1. Confusion – “yes, but how does that address US foreign policy and the social responsibility charter and the challenges of globalisation…  and the new tax situation?”
  2. Fear mongering – “uff… this will be like X back in 2008 when it all went wrong”
  3. Death by delays – task forces, committees: “let’s set up a task force to assess the merits of this idea”
  4. Ridicule – personal attack on your credibility 

How to get your idea through:

  • Don’t avoid the lions – make sure the critics are in the room, on the cc – gunfire draws attention. If nobody disagrees with you, you are either too much of a dictator, or your idea is too bland.  You don’t stand for anything if you don’t cause a negative reaction in some people.  Apple has its haters, they don’t try to please everyone.  
  • Keep it simple – don’t let yourself be pulled into minute implementation details that cloud the big picture. It is your job to keep the conversations focused on the important criteria.  
  • Treat people with respect – even when you are angry and defensive. You look more statesmanlike vs the bullies. Trust that the motives of the critic might have reason.  Develop an ability to not directly react to confrontation.
  • Understand “ego” – people will never want to accept that they are wrong.  Don’t put them in a position where they have to accept that they were wrong.  The best line of argument is “2 years ago you took the best decision based on the available information; but, something has changed.  I ask you to revisit the decision with this newly available information”.
  • Watch all the audience – include all the people in the room, not just critics and supporters.  It may be through one-on-one meetings, phone calls, distribution of reading materials.
  • Preparation – don’t wing it.  The words you are comfortable with, may not be the words that help the listener see what they need to see.  What do they need to know, feel and believe?  Too many people fail because they speak what they think is important, not what the audience believes is important.  Comfortable is not effective.  
How do you promote your ideas in your family, work, school, charity?  Do you risk having your best ideas shot down because you just “put them out there”?

Author: Conor Neill

Hi, I’m Conor Neill, an Entrepreneur and Teacher at IESE Business School. I speak about Moving People to Action.

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