How To Sell An Idea

You've got an idea: a new way of doing things; a change; a paradigm shift. It might work, it might be no better than what we've got already, or it might end up being a disaster.

The honest way to present your proposal would be to admit its novelty, and hence the uncertainty: this is a new idea I had, I can't promise anything, but here are my reasons for thinking it's worth a try, here are the likely costs and benefits, here are the alternatives.

However, let's suppose you don't want to do that. That's hard work, and if your idea is crap, people could tell. How else could you convince them? By making it seem as though it's not a new idea at all.

You could dress your idea up as:

  • the glorious past. Your idea is nothing more than how we did things back in the golden age, when everything was great. For some reason, people strayed from the true path, and things went bad. We should go back to the the good old days. It worked then, so it'll work now. You'll use words like: restoring, reviving, regaining, renewing... "re" is your friend.
  • the next step. Your idea is just the logical progression of what we're already doing. Things used to be bad, and then they started to change, and get better. Let's make them even better, by doing more of the same. It's inevitable, anyway: you can't stop history. You'll use words like: progress, forward, advance, build, grow...
  • catching up. You're just saying we should bring stuff into line with the way things are done elsewhere, which as we know, is working well. It's not even a matter of moving forward, so much as keeping up. It would be weird not to change. We don't want to be dinosaurs. You'll use words like: modernization, rationalization, reform...
  • keeping things the same. Things are fine right now, and don't need improving. But in order for things to stay great, we must adapt to changing circumstances, so we'll have to make a few adjustments, but don't worry, fundamentally things are going to stay just as they are. You'll use words like: preserving, maintaining, protecting, upholding, strengthening...
The point in every case being to make an innovation seem like it's not one. New means untested, and uncertain, and risky. No-one likes that. Passing off ideas as already proven is a way of gaining acceptance for ideas that wouldn't stand up on their own merits. I'm sure I don't need to point out that this trick is a mainstay of politicians, ideologues and managers everywhere.

Of course, there are plenty of changes that really are these things, to various degrees. Sometimes the past was glorious, relatively speaking (France 1942 springs to mind); sometimes we do need to catch up.

But every new idea still has an element of risk. Nothing has ever been tried and tested in the exact circumstances that we face now, because those circumstances have never existed before. Just because it worked before, or elsewhere, in a situation that we think is similar, is no guarantee. There are only degrees of certainty.

This doesn't mean we can't decide what to do, or that we shouldn't change anything. Not changing things is a plan of action in itself, anyway. The point is that we ought to be willing to try stuff that might not work, our guide to what's likely to happen being the evidence on what's worked before, critically appraised. "I don't know" is not a dirty phrase.

No Response to "How To Sell An Idea"

Posting Komentar

powered by Blogger