Why people desire but reject creative ideas – and how to pitch your ideas successfully
In the previous two articles I discussed the topic of creativity and shared some practical ways of becoming more creative, or in “practical terms”, generating more and better ideas. The crux of the matter is that all people are creative to some extent in some area of interest and that creativity is a skill than can be improved.
Unfortunately, coming up with a great idea is only half the battle, most human beings are afraid of change – especially in an organisational context and trying new and different things. Let me give you two well-known examples to prove my point:
“Who the hell wants to copy a document on plain paper???!!!” Rejection letter in 1940 to Chester Carlson, inventor of the XEROX machine. In fact, over 20 companies rejected his “useless” idea between 1939 and 1944. Even the National Inventors Council dismissed it. Today, the Rank Xerox Corporation has an annual revenue in the range of one billion US dollar.
Apple’s co-founder Steve Wozniak offered his then-employer Hewlett Packard the Apple I PC computer five different times, begging them to manufacture it. Five different times they rejected it, outright. Wozniak was mocked by his former employer, and eventually struck out on his own. A decision I assume they regret dismally.
Although these two examples refer to highly technological products, the “human condition” is the same for anything new or different, big or small, simple or complex, namely an inherent bias against uncertainty.
So, if you have ever presented an exciting new idea to the world only to receive a lukewarm or even highly critical response, get used to it, because mounting evidence shows that humans possess an inherent bias against creativity (Mueller, Melwani & Goncalo, 2012). The good news is there is something we can do about it.
Selling your ideas
Burkus (2012) explains the phenomenon under discussion as follows: “For an idea to be creative, it has to depart from the “business as usual” at some point. That departure makes many people uncomfortable. Despite our oft-stated desire for more creativity, we also hold a stronger desire for certainty and structure. When that certainty is challenged, a bias against creativity develops. Thus, when you’re pitching your creative idea, it may not be the idea itself that is being rejected. The more likely culprit could be the uncertainty your audience is feeling, which in turn is overriding their ability to recognize the idea as truly novel and useful”.
Understanding this behaviour, also leads to the solution for improving your chances of getting a new / different / novel idea accepted in the organisation. There are a lot of good advice available on how to successfully pitch ideas, but in my view, an understanding of this paradox of rejecting creative ideas, even when promoting creativity as a desired goal, is crucial for innovators to get their novel ideas implemented in organisations. Burkus advises that if the implicit bias against creativity is triggered by uncertainty, then crafting your pitch to maximize certainty should improve the odds of the idea being accepted.
You can do this in a variety of ways. Reaffirming what the decision makers knows is true about their project should prime them to be more accepting of novel ideas. Connecting the idea to more familiar ideas, such as previous successful projects or similar works, will also increase the odds that your idea will be seen as practical and desirable. Lastly, try leading decision makers to your idea with a series of statements they agree with and then pitching your idea as if it is theirs. Thus, counteracting the bias against creativity with an even more powerful bias – the bias for our own ideas!
It is a given that it will be challenging to get new ideas accepted and implemented in organisations. As a student of innovation I am always on the lookout for new and better ways of overcoming this challenge. So, I’ve picked up in the innovation literature that more and more authors, consultants and thought leaders are of the opinion these days that because it is “impossible” (or very difficult) to innovate in the “system”, there is a lot of support for a “dual system”, meaning to take innovation out of the core of the business and pursue innovation outside of the business.
This is not a new concept, and I am also a proponent of this model and it is getting a lot of “airtime” again, so I will devote the next delivery to this topic. It is only appropriate to conclude with this quote from Howard Aiken: “Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats”.
Mueller, J.S., Melwani, S. and Goncalo, J.A., 2012. The bias against creativity: Why people desire but reject creative ideas. Psychological science, 23(1), pp.13-17.
Burkus B. 2012. Why great ideas get rejected? [Online]. https://99u.adobe.com/articles/7207/why-great-ideas-get-rejected.