GE's Beth Comstock: Here's How I Sell An Idea
As someone who has been called an idiot more often than an innovator, I know how it feels to pitch an idea before its time or to someone who’s just not into it. But ideas make way for progress; they happen long before you can show someone the money. I’ve come to believe that putting out ideas is my obligation.
I once worked for a brilliant man who wasn’t afraid to offer an idea before its time. More than half of them were nonsensical but he had some incredible gems. Here’s what I learned from him: Just put it out there. As Einstein said, “If at first the idea is not absurd, there is no hope for it.”
But you have to be prepared to defend your ideas. Here is the process I’ve found helpful:
Shelter the seedling.
It starts as a notion, something that you can’t even articulate. Maybe it comes to you on a walk (my favorite idea generator), or on the train, or it builds on top of something someone else said. An idea rarely happens as the result of a mandatory team brainstorm. Noodle it, let it breathe and build. Ignore it and see if it still comes back.
Give it a stress test.
Ask yourself, do I believe in this idea and am I willing to appear foolish by telling others? Critically, do I feel so passionately about this idea that I want it to happen with or without me? Then do your homework and make sure the idea solves a meaningful problem. Finally, ask others to help make the idea better – never ask, is this a good idea?
You can’t sell it if you can’t tell it. This is where things often fall apart. I’ve seen many an entrepreneur or creative executive fall short because they can’t sell a vision for the idea. I believe if you can tell a compelling enough story you’ll capture hearts and minds, which then allows you to build a sound business plan.
“The value of an idea lies in the using of it”, Thomas Edison said. Once you sell it, you need to do it. In the parlance of entrepreneurs, you need to create a Minimum Viable Product. Then ask yourself, can it scale?
Don’t give up.
I’ve heard no more than yes and I’ve seen people take negative feedback and give up on an idea. Do you believe in your idea? Then keep going. Find more people to share the idea, to bring it to life. Sometimes the timing is wrong. The company is wrong. The boss is wrong. Hold on. I just “sold” an idea that I’ve been incubating and selling for SIX YEARS!
Here’s closing inspiration for you. Far better than anything I can write is this creative spot from our partners at BBDO. It didn’t fit in with any specific campaign, but David Lubars believed in the idea... with great results.