How can you get approval for your innovative ideas? In today’s ever-changing world, there are plenty of opportunities to deliver better and higher value services. However, how do you know your idea is worth pursuing? How do you convince the management of your organization that this is a great opportunity and that you have a winning idea?
Get your idea approved
Most ideas are raised in a vacuum. That is, besides the idea owner, very few others are aware of the problem, need, or opportunity.
If there is a call to action or idea tournament and your idea fits the theme, then it is relatively easy. Since management has acknowledged the issue and set aside funds for innovative ideas and solutions that address it. It this scenario it is a matter of making your idea stand out, which requires you to explain it in very simple terms for everyone to understand. How to do that, is a topic for another blog.
For ideas raised in a vacuum
In this blog, I focus on innovative ideas that are raised in a vacuum.
To set the scene, I am making a few assumptions about your idea and this vacuum.
First, I assume that you are convinced your idea will be a winner. Second, I assume that your overall goal is not just to get approval to act, but to see your innovation project through and get the solution implemented in practice. Third, I assume that nothing will happen with your idea, unless you take action.
The first and foremost piece of advice I am going to give you is to not focus on your idea in this early phase. This may sound odd and contradictory. How can you get approval for your idea, without mentioning it?
Do not focus on your idea in the earliest phases...
Let me explain.
Has the following scenario ever happened to you:
A colleague and good friend takes you in confidence. He chatters for 5 minutes, explaining in great detail how something could work. You are really trying to follow along and are working hard to understand what your friend is trying to tell you. You wonder how to politely interrupt his flow of words. You are clueless what he is talking about. The longer you wait, the more painful it becomes to intervene. You try to find the guts to politely ask for some guidance, "Can you please help me understand what you are talking about? Can you explain the big picture here?" However, you cannot and instead you nod. You nod some more. Say "sounds interesting" and hope that you have been encouraging enough not to disappoint your friend. Yet not too encouraging that your friend will come back any time soon with follow up questions. Sounds familiar?
I have come to realize, that when people explain their ideas, they often jump into what sounds to a listener as the middle of the story. Like explaining why Bob has gotten into a fight with uncle Joe, while aunt Jamie was trying to stop him from hurting Sam, who was still wearing his blue shirt.
Without properly setting the seen, this sentence does not make any sense. Even worse, the story can mean anything to anyone, depending on the different assumptions the listener makes about Bob, Joe, Jamie, Sam, the importance of the blue shirt, and how this all came to be.
When talking about your idea, you are in danger of doing exactly the same. By failing to give your audience a beginning, middle, and end to your story, they will struggle to follow along and grasp the plot.
In addition, by failing to provide any context, your audience will not know or understand the relevance and importance of the details you provide them with.
The start makes all the difference between a good and a bad pitch. Bad pitches start and are all about the idea and technology. Good pitches explain the context and the problem first. Once the scene is set, then the solution is introduced in such that you have the perception that you about came up with the solution yourself.
Sketch the context first
So, to get approval, you will have to provide context first. There are a few advantages to this approach.
First, people take action when there is a problem or something that urgently needs to be addressed. Not because something is possible. It is the urgency of the problem or opportunity that you address that will get people in action and help you get approval.
Second, by setting the scene for your story and idea you create awareness. Organizational awareness that is needed to garner support and get buy-in for your project.
Third, this approach will help you to refine and strengthen your idea in the process. Without having to give your idea away, you can learn more about the issue at hand. The better you understand how your idea fits in, the more robust your solution will become.
Sketch the context and explore the opportunity
What does sketch the context and focus on the problem entail? Think about it as looking at your innovative idea from your boss’ perspective.
To get your boss interested in your idea, he or she needs to be aware that there is a problem or opportunity. Not just a problem, but one that it is best addressed and tackled by one of his or her own people.
In other words, you need to convince your boss that this is worth your time. For that, there are a couple of things your boss will want to know.
Among others, your boss probably wants to know whether this is an important and urgent problem for your clients. Is it a hot topic in the industry? What are others doing about it?
There are also things your boss wants to avoid. Nobody wants to chase shiny objects. There are plenty of nice-to-have and blinking things to distract employees in the organization. Your boss has to prevent that from happening. So you have to prove this is a real and pressing problem that is worth putting time and energy into. It cannot be just the latest fad.
Last but not least, your boss would like to know that there is a broader interest in the organization to address the issue. Nobody wants to be considered a fool like Don Quixote. In addition, you may leave the organization and then all the efforts will walk out the door too. It is thus a much safer bet for your boss to invest time and energy in something that has broader organizational appeal, instead of something that may just be a hobby for you.
5 Simple steps to get approval
The above may sound like a lot of work. However, if you are smart and focused in your efforts, you can address many of these concerns with the following five-step plan:
1. Study industry trends related to the idea
Objective: become knowledgeable about the domain your idea is about.
In the meantime, you will work on finding:
- Evidence that it is a hot topic in your industry.
- Evidence that it is a concern among your clients. WARNING: This evidence may have to be based on desk-research. Without approval from your boss, you cannot go out and ask your clients.
2. Ask for permission to attend (free) webinars and meetups
Objective: Become even more knowledgeable about the domain, build your network, and make your boss aware that you are interested and serious about the topic.
In the meantime, these efforts will also result in:
- Awareness on the part of your boss
- Evidence that it is a hot topic in your industry
- Evidence that it is a concern among your clients
- Evidence that it is not just the next new thing, but truly a pressing problem or opportunity
3. Share your findings with the organization and your boss in a meeting
Objective: Share your newly obtained insights with your colleagues, position yourself as an enthusiast and expert on the topic, build awareness for the topic among colleagues and your boss, attract potential team members.
In the meantime, this is an excellent opportunity to:
- Build further awareness
- Obtain confirmation about the broader interest of the topic in the organization
- Identify possible teammates
4. Ask for permission to explore the topic
Objective: Get approval to build a team and take action
By now, you have about everything in place that your boss needs to give you an initial go. Now, ask for a minor first commitment, such as for example writing a proposal. Something that small is much easier to approve than the entire project. A small first commitment will help you to ask for more later. In addition, it will give you the time to build your team. Attracting team members will be much easier with an initial yes in your pocket, even if it is just for a small commitment.
5. Get approval to work on the project
Objective: Get the resources and time you need to explore your idea and bring it to fruition
By now, you have a team in place, a proposal with clear objectives, awareness and interest in the issue at the management level. Now it is time to make your next ask and get approval to start the project. This is the moment when all your prep work will pay off. The decision-makers in your organization are now ready to say ‘yes’ to your solution and your team.
And what about "your idea"?
You may wonder, what about my idea? What you will probably find, is that by this time your initial idea has been significantly improved upon. It has matured into a solution. As you move through the innovation process, that is exactly what should happen! Use your initial idea as a suggestion and do the work needed to make sure you are on the right path. That way, you can be sure to be on your way to create a winning solution.