Back in 1876, Alexander Graham Bell was excited when he discovered that electrical currents could exactly duplicate sound waves and create various sounds by causing a diaphragm to vibrate at different frequencies. But when he first displayed his ‘speaking telegraph’ to the world, no one wanted to hear about it. Bell approached Western Union, the leading telecommunications company in the US at the time, with his new invention, but they shot down the idea.
So if you have a great idea that no one seems to care about, you’re in illustrious company!
How do people look at a new idea?
Let’s try to examine what happened in Bell’s case. Was the telephone a dumb idea? Certainly not. But Western Union did not appreciate the idea immediately simply because it wasn’t their idea. And probably, Bell didn’t invest the effort needed to make it their idea.
Let me explain this.
When you come up with a great idea, it sounds like a great idea to you for a couple of reasons. First, because it’s your idea (we’re all egoistic and of course, you’re smart). But more importantly, it is because you are viewing the idea from your frame of reference. It’s compatible with your belief system, with your past experiences, and your knowledge of the subject.
When you present your idea to someone else, you have to be aware that they will look at it from a completely different lens, through which it may not look all that amazing. Understanding the psychology and sociology of innovation is crucial if you want your idea to make any impact on the world. If you ignore this aspect, you will be likely to be disappointed and your idea will remain just that – an idea.
In his book, Diffusion of Innovations, Everett Rogers explains how people evaluate innovation. According to him, it often boils down to a cost-benefit analysis coupled with the ‘uncertainty’ factor. Will this be useful to me? Will it give me an advantage? How complex is it? Can I try it first or do I have to go all in? Is this affordable? If I use this, will people think I’m weird?
These are the questions that people are likely to ask themselves before they pass their verdict on your idea. Your ability to answer these questions favourably determines your success or failure. If you want to convince people that your idea is indeed a great idea, you need to first understand their frame of reference.
How can you get others to like your idea?
When you come up with that amazingly cool, path-breaking idea that can potentially change the world, pause for a minute and take a step back before announcing it to the world. First make the honest effort to step into the shoes of your audience – your customers, prospective employees, investors and the community at large. What are they looking for? What motivates them? What’s their perspective of the world? How will your idea impact their lives? What reservations could they have in embracing your idea? This insight is absolutely essential if you hope to successfully ‘sell’ your idea to the world.
The good news is that if people tell you that your idea is lousy, that’s probably not true. It’s your way of presenting the idea that could be lousy.
And THAT’S the bit you need to work on.