Presenting new ideas to clients is always a risky undertaking. When I worked in advertising our clients would often tell us that seeing new creative was their favorite part of the day. I thought it was because most of their time was taken up with boring meetings and spreadsheets, and having interesting and unique ideas presented to them really broke up the monotony.
In retrospect, I was being painfully naive.
Because what actually happened in those meetings was that the clients would tear the work apart limb from limb and then dance in the still-steaming entrails of the dead creative, laughing hysterically all the while.
Of course I exaggerate. But not as much as you might think.
When we worked with C Suite level people, founders or very senior executives these sorts of things didn’t happen. Decisions were made and communication was clear. We knew what to do.
So what goes on when you’re dealing with the lower level executives?
In his book “The Myths of Creativity” David Burkus cites a study led by Jennifer Mueller, assistant professor of management at The Wharton School in which she demonstrates that people are biased against new ideas. To make matters worse, organizations typically have an approval process that travels though various departments and layers of management, each of which tend to evaluate ideas based on the effect they will have on their individual career as well as their particular business unit. It is incredibly difficult to run this gauntlet and come away with a yes for anything that strays very far from the bounds of the status quo.
Vanderbilt professor David Owens calls this the “hierarchy of no.” An incredibly apt description based on my own experience.
And it’s just as difficult to sell new ideas into an organization if you actually work there as it is if you’re a vendor of some sort, or, say, an ad agency.
Does this mean that it’s pointless to have new ideas?
Of course not! Just be aware that you often need to be as creative about how you sell your ideas as you had to be to conceive the idea in the first place. Maybe even more so.
If there’s a senior person who could act as a champion, enlist them. Make sure you know all the people in the hierarchy who are likely to have to pass off on the idea and understand what would most likely incline them to say yes. It may take some sleuthing but stick with it. Sound people out on the idea. Incorporate suggestions that make sense. People who have some “skin in the game” are more likely to support a new idea than people who have more to gain by going with the tried and true.
Above all, if you truly believe in your idea, stick with it. Ideas are like babies. When they’re new they’re defenseless, not fully formed. It’s your job to help them get to the point where they can stand on their own.