How to pitch an innovation to a risk averse managerSo you’ve got this amazing, cool, gigantically engaging project idea, and you want your manager to sign off on it. This is where your beautiful new tyre hits the hard asphalt of institutional reality. You’ve convinced your team - but they think like you do. Now you have to convince someone who doesn’t think like you do. This will probably be your biggest single hurdle. If you can convince your manager, you’re well positioned to convince others. Think about your manager’s world: she has a small amount of power and autonomy, and it’s fragile. She’ll need to justify her decision to sceptical executives above her. And they are in just the same situation. They also have small amounts of fragile autonomy. And, as you know, she’s very busy and has virtually no cognitive bandwidth to spare. What you’ve got working for you is that your manager has problems she needs help to solve. And the terrible secret that all managers have (but can’t talk about) is that they know they are crap at achieving some of their critical goals. This is the capacity gap you can use to frame a successful sign-off. Managers are open to anything that increases their capacity to meet wobbly KPIs (key performance indicators). But it has to be safe! Now we can see a strategy for pitching our idea. Although our idea is WORLD-SHAKINGLY REVOLUTIONARY, we must temper that vision and instead pitch it as a safe, low-risk way to progress our managers’ immediately salient goals. And we need a crisp, instantly comprehensible description that that our manager can intuitively understand and sell up the chain. And we have just 3 minutes to do it. So let’s get some practice, using this 8 step formula: Step 1) Open with a 10 second elevator pitch. Describe the idea and the outcome in 10 seconds or 25 words. Make it clean and simple.
“This proposal is for a 2 week community reporting blitz to create a snapshot of backyard dumping in Bondi."Step 2) State the need. In one paragraph, write a crisp problem statement. If you have some metrics, mention them.
“We’ve had 17 complaints of waste dumping in Bondi back streets in the last 12 months. But we have no idea of the real extent, of what’s being dumped, and who’s dumping it. We need a clear picture so we can devise a response. Yet we don’t have the staff to go out and check.”Step 3) Remember to link to your managers' KPIs. Ideally link to one or more KPIs your manager is having trouble meeting - that way you can be the answer to their problem. Feel free to use a management buzzword-de-jour here.
"Tackling back street dumping can let crews focus more on 'accelerated delivery' of main street cleansing."Step 4) Sketch the innovation. How does it work? Sketch the mechanics of your idea. Conjure a word-picture. Better still, draw a real picture so the manager can instantly visualise the elements and how they work together.
“The proposal involves asking joggers to snap photos of waste dumped and send them to a council SMS number. That will gives us a quick visual database of rubbish dumped, geocoded and dated. To encourage participation, we’ll offer free coffee vouchers for the first 50 individuals who send in photos.”And show them a picture. Step 5) What’s the ask? What, exactly, is the size of the bet you’re asking your manager to make?
“We’ll need $1500 for printing and coffee vouchers. We’ll need 3 days each for 2 staff to organise the prototype.”Step 6) Any evidence this idea has worked elsewhere? If so, mention it. If you have metrics from successful precedents, present them. Step 7) How you’ll manage the risks. How will you constrain the investment to make it a small, safe, bet? Think: limited time, compact location, small budget. Or start with rapid prototyping: a small, safe, test of concept, carried out swiftly, with very basic resources.
“We’d like to prototype the idea with 4 of our own staff who are joggers. Then test the idea with local joggers, on a limited basis, in Barney St and Janis Lane, for a two week trial. We’ll assess the results and report back to you.”Step 8) Now be silent. Leave it to them. People actually have to talk themselves into change. Your silence will invite a response. They’ll ask some questions. A conversation will occur. They’ll test out their fears and you’ll have the answers (because you rehearsed them).