How to Counter Executive Objections to New Ideas

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Countering objections to innovation

Innovation problems happen when companies train employees to fight failure at all costs, and then they wonder why team members aren't coming up with new ideas.

2. "We have no resources to support your idea."

What this executive objection really means is, "This isn't a priority for me, my budget, or my department." Unpacking it involves realizing that in business, resources are threefold: money, people and time. Most enterprises have money; what you need is to find the right person at the right time. 

The reality, however, is that even if an executive sees promise in your idea, he or she will be reluctant to commit people and money to it. The executive is aware that it takes weeks, even months, to recruit and train the right team. Instead of letting those objections sap your momentum, propose an external partnership. Executives' hesitations often evaporate when they realize they don't need to bet a team and untold time on an untested idea.

3. “You have zero proof of concept.”
Ideally, you should never hear this objection because you should never pitch an idea without some sort of proof of concept. But it can be a catch-22: You can't get resources until you provide that proof, but how are you supposed to do that without any resources?

Somehow, you need validation. If the executive won't commit internal resources, ask if he or she would let you enlist an external firm instead. Be sure you select one that knows the importance of user insights and iterative design. With the firm's help, gather rich, qualitative user insights about the problem, as well as quantitative ones about how much they'd be willing to spend on a solution. Weave it all into an irresistible story, and crown it with a presentation-worthy prototype.

4. “I don’t understand this idea and doubt anyone else will, either.”
By definition, innovative concepts are paradigmatically different from current approaches. To someone coming in cold, pitching one can make you sound downright crazy. Not being taken seriously is frustrating, to be sure, but becoming emotional only digs you in deeper.

Again, the answer is to show, not tell. Rather than speak in circles, pull out your proof of concept. An executive should be able to see how your concept could solve a problem in a unique way. Don't force your conclusion on the executive; let him or her arrive at it.

What other visual aids should you have holstered? Augment your prototype with pitch decks, sales demos or user interface mocks. Choose your tools on the basis of your concept, as well as the executive's personal preferences, working style and company role.

On the battlefield of business, you must defend your gains. Each innovation idea an executive shoots down is, in his or her mind, one fewer threat to the business. 

But no war has ever been won without an offensive strategy. Show your idea to be that next unprotected hill. Prove that you can take it, and sooner or later, you'll get your soldiers.

Skot Carruth is the CEO and co-founder of Philosophie, a digital innovation firm with offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City. It helps large organizations validate and develop their promising ideas through agile design, rapid prototyping and software craftsmanship.

This article was originally published on 2017-10-05
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