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3 Strategies to Defeat “We’ve Always Done It This Way”

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by Greg Roth

Have you ever had an idea for a new product, service, or process that held great potential? Or, thought “if only we could fix this one thing,” we could save time, make money, establish new relationships, or achieve some other goal, everyone would celebrate?

And yet, your enthusiasm was met with the Darth Vader of creativity-killing phrases: “Nah, we’ve always done it this way.” Along with its cousin, “it will never work,” the “WADITW” mindset has been used to potentially deny the world medical advancements, iPhones, overnight delivery, analytics in professional sports, valleys of startup ideas, and so on.

An oft-cited 2014 piece in The Atlantic magazine discussed why people inherently distrust new ideas, even when they profess to value creative thinking and solutions. The truth is, great ideas don’t automatically sell themselves. They almost always face a “no.” So, let’s look at three ways to pitch your idea to counter the “WADITW” mindset.

Establish a Precedent

Identifying a fundamental “shift” is one of the most powerful pitching techniques. “WADITW” begins to lose its power when you point to sea changes, whether they are happening next door or a world way. This is why Airbnb was once pitched as “eBay for space” or why movies are often pitched as “Movie A meets Movie B.” You shouldn’t necessarily reduce your idea to this much of a simple formula, but offering a precedent of some form is a powerful tool to position your idea in the sweet spot between freshness and familiarity. Many organizations are risk-averse and this helps reduce the perceived risk.

Identify the Smart Alternative

Never assume you are the first person to think of your particular new idea. Why not? Because the “I can’t be the first” mindset will help you prepare the idea you’re pitching for scrutiny. If you understand the prevailing wisdom — “what got us here and why?” — you can pitch your idea as an outgrowth of that line of thinking, just with a different turn along the road somewhere. While ride-sharing apps have been praised for disrupting the taxi space, they still deliver the same essential service as a traditional taxi – they get people from A to B. So, the logic of their pitch is same goal, smarter tactics.

Open New Possibilities 

A common mistake in pitching is starting with the problem. Too often, this stacks the odds against fresh ideas. How? Leaders might not agree with your problem (viewpoint), they may not like to admit there’s a problem (ego), or they might like the way things currently operate (comfort). Instead, focus on how your idea can open up new possibilities. What will this idea allow us to do that we couldn’t do before? And, just as powerful, what could people say about us if we succeed? In essence, you are asking “how can the organization think big and make the world a better place?”

Remember, while people may inherently distrust new ideas, they will often accept smart, sound thinking.

(Cross-posted from its original version on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce IOM Blog.)

Greg Roth
About Greg Roth
Founder, The Idea Enthusiast. Speaker, Trainer, Facilitator, and writer about all things creative consulting. DC-based consultant to individuals who want to be more creative, teams who want to collaborate without fear, and anyone who wants to deliver the best pitches and presentations.

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3 Strategies to Defeat “We’ve Always Done It This Way”