Organizing for innovation

Making your Case: The Court Case vs. The Business Case

As an innovation leader, pitching new ideas to stakeholders and approval committees is part of your role. However, treating these pitches like court cases—highlighting only the positives and omitting the negatives—can be successful in the short term but counterproductive in the long term. Let’s explore the differences between a court case and a business case, why the latter is essential for success, and how to navigate board biases and preferences for the court-case approach - using real-world experiences.

The Court Case Approach

In a court case, the goal is to win by presenting your argument as favorably as possible, often highlighting only the strengths and leaving out any potential negatives. This approach can be likened to presenting a highly polished, one-sided story.


  1. Partial Presentation: Focus on strengths and positive aspects.
  2. Omission of Negatives: Ignore or downplay risks and weaknesses.
  3. Adversarial Nature: Aim to convince the decision-makers without showing the full picture.

Real-World Drawbacks:

  • Lack of Trust: Teams and stakeholders may feel misled when they uncover omitted information, leading to a loss of trust.
  • Inadequate Risk Management: Without addressing potential risks upfront, projects can face significant hurdles later on.
  • Missed Collaboration: By not presenting the full story, you miss out on valuable input and support from other departments.

The Business Case Approach

A business case is about providing a complete and transparent overview. This includes the rationale, benefits, potential upsides, uncertainties, and risks. The aim is to tell a compelling yet honest story that invites collaboration and support. Because the devil is often in the detail, business cases tend to be complex and boring to read.


  1. Comprehensive Presentation: Cover all aspects, including the rationale and potential challenges.
  2. Transparency and Honesty: Be upfront about both positives and negatives.
  3. Collaborative Nature: Seek to garner support and collaboration.

Real-World Benefits:

  • Building Trust: Transparency builds trust, making stakeholders more likely to support your project.
  • Better Risk Management: By discussing risks early, you can develop strategies to mitigate them.
  • Engaging Support: A complete story invites others to contribute their expertise and resources, fostering a collaborative environment.

Recognizing Board Biases

Many boards have a bias toward compelling stories and favor pitches that resemble court cases. They often prefer confidence and a clear, positive narrative.

Navigating Board Expectations:

  • Awareness of Biases: Recognize that boards may favor a strong, positive story.
  • Strategic Blending: Combine elements of both approaches—craft a compelling narrative while being prepared to address risks and uncertainties if questioned.
  • Board Education: Over time, work on educating boards about the value of a comprehensive business case for better decision-making.

Pragmatic Approach:

While the business case approach is more suitable for innovation projects, the court case approach has its value, particularly the narrative.

  • Know Your Audience: If your board prefers the court case approach, start with a strong, positive story to secure initial approval. Gradually introduce comprehensive business case elements to ensure long-term success and risk management.
  • Memorable Storytelling: Crafting a compelling narrative can make your pitch more engaging and memorable.
  • Focused Messaging: Keep your core arguments clear and concise to ensure your key messages are conveyed effectively.


In conclusion, when comparing the courtcase vs the business case, the court case approach will make your pitch memorable, however, it can undermine trust and collaboration, which are crucial for the success of innovation projects. Adopting a business case approach—emphasizing transparency, risk assessment, and collaboration—builds a stronger foundation for your projects. The best solution is probably a hybrid approach, acknowledging and strategically navigating decision-making biases by blending strong storytelling with comprehensive planning. That will make your pitch most effective. In the end, your goal is to engage your audience in your innovation journey, not just to convince them of your point of view.


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