Ever excitedly share an idea with a teammate, boss, or client that’s met with such horror that you wonder if you’d accidentally suggested clubbing baby seals?
(No? Just me? Well you’ve gotten your ideas twisted, rejected, or ignored before right? Okay. Cool. Same page.)
Why does this happen? And more importantly, how can we fix the issue? If our goal is to constantly push ourselves and others past commodity work and towards something better all the time, how can we better persuade and convince?
it starts with diagnosing the real problem. The issue most likely isn’t that your boss is old school, or that you need more budget, or that your industry isn’t creative enough. The issue is that it’s so much easier for us to share our ideas than it is for others to understand them. This creates a divide between us and them — something I call the Green Smoothie Problem.
Why “green smoothie”?
Imagine I just handed you a smoothie in a glass. “It’s a green smoothie. Wanna drink it?”
If you’ve never seen or heard of a smoothie like that, you’d react in one of two ways:
Either you’d anchor to things you already understand to be similar. “Oh, I saw this at the gym once. It’s like, wheat grass or something. Gross!” Or maybe, “This looks like a kid’s drink. It’s gonna be too sugary for me. No thanks.”
Or you’d look for social proof that says it’s a good drink. “Do people really drink this? Do studies show it’s good to drink? Are celebrities endorsing this? Is there a green smoothie case study I can see?”
By merely handing you the smoothie and hoping you drink it, I’ve jumped too quickly to the part of my communication where I propose the idea. In doing so, I’ve immediately put you at an information disadvantage. You see, this is how we present our ideas:
We too quickly share the idea. “It’s a green smoothie. Wanna drink it?” Unfortunately, while that’s how we typically communicate, THIS is how people understand:
In our eagerness to do better in our work, we too quickly arrive at the conclusion, like that exponential curve. On the other hand, people tend to learn about ideas in a more linear fashion. If THIS, then THAT, and THAT, and THAT, and so on. Whereas we’ve gone through an entire thought process (consciously or subconsciously), others are still at the beginning. It’s as if we’ve showed them the end of a movie and asked, “Do you like this movie?”
It’s this divide between how we present ideas and how others understand them that creates that information disadvantage for the other person … and our Green Smoothie Problem.
When I merely hand you the smoothie and ask you to drink it, you’re left to do all the reasoning as to why that makes logical sense. You have to bridge that divide between how I’m sharing the idea (“Here, it’s a green smoothie”) and how you actually understand it. As a result, you exhibit one of those two behaviors mentioned earlier: You anchor to past precedent or draft off the knowledge of others, or the shortcut version of that: social proof. You’re trying to fill in gaps in your knowledge — gaps I created. So, if my goal is to get you to drink the smoothie, I’ve done a pretty lousy job. I’ve merely handed you the drink and left you to do all the reasoning to influence your final decision.
But if I really wanted to influence your decision, what if I rearranged how I communicated so you never felt like you were at an information disadvantage?
What if, rather than simply hand you the smoothie, I laid out the ingredients first?
If I said to you, “Remember last week, when you told me you wanted to be healthy? And then you joked about all those foul-tasting health drinks? Well, here’s what I did: I got some mango, some apple, some kiwi, a banana, a handful of kale, and some protein powder. Also, I went on this island vacation last year and my bartender used coconut oil in my drinks. It was delicious, so I got some of that too. Oh, and by the way, we have a blender in the kitchen already, so in almost no time, I blended all of this stuff together. So, if you want to get healthy and still drink something delicious” (places glass on table) “how about this green smoothie?”
And NOW, you again have one of two reactions, only this time, both are far more productive if my goal is for you to drink this smoothie I made you.
Either you’d happily drink it. “Why, yes, that makes total sense, thank you! This is great!”
Or, if you STILL don’t drink it, you’re equipped with all the information you need to have an objective and productive conversation with me. You Rather than a wholesale “nope,” maybe you’d point to an ingredient you didn’t understand or don’t like eating. “Could we take out the kale? I hate how bitter it tastes.” Sure! No problem! How about some spinach? Or maybe you start to build on the idea proactively, excitedly seeing the potential as you begin to actually PARTICIPATE in the idea. “This sounds great, AND! You know what, Jay? The blender we have kinda sucks. I think I burnt it out making all those protein shakes. Why don’t I buy us a new one?” Yes! Definitely! And have I mentioned how swoll you’re looking, boss?
When you discuss ideas with others in your work, by sharing your thinking in a more complete way, rather than just the idea, others never feel like they’re at an information disadvantage. They can then make a more informed decision to proceed with confidence or, at very least, you can have a productive conversation.
This may seem difficult, since it’s rather natural for us to simply share our ideas without laying out our thinking. So repeat this phrase over and over again to remember the truth:
Don’t share your ideas. Share why your ideas should exist.
This approach has real benefits, not least of which is we’ll continue to share ideas with confidence even after getting shot down. Why? Because we stop feeling like others don’t like US. We make the communication style less personal. By laying out our thinking, it’s no longer YOU (the judge of my idea) versus ME (the bearer of the idea). Instead, everyone is now involved in the thinking process. In other words, we have to make others feel like cofounders of our ideas. We can put our thinking on the board and, together, discuss it and improve it. We’re both trying to solve a problem, together, and whether physically on the board or simply mentally, the object of judgment is whether this is how we should best solve a problem — not whether any one individual is “good” or “creative.”
Too often, when we use our intuition to come up with ideas, we arrive at something faster than traditional reasoning can explain. Our minds have produced that exponential curve, while others around us try their linear logic to understand it. They’re trying to reverse engineer something that we might have arrived at thanks to the messy combination of every experience in our entire lives. Good luck, boss!
Worse, we typically share our ideas with such excitement. This only isolates others further. They have NO idea how we arrived there, and yet we see it as so logical and so exciting. They now just feel worse that they don’t quite see it. The knee-jerk reaction is to reject it to regain a feeling of superiority and control.
We all want to do our best work, and that will inevitably require us to persuade others of the validity of our ideas. To do that, we can’t rely on others to fill in the gaps in their knowledge. All of this stems from their lack of information. We’ve given them the destination, but they have no idea how to get there. So it’s our job to help them do so.
Don’t sell your ideas. Sell why your ideas should exist.
So how do we do that? Well, let’s re-trace my second, better explanation of the green smoothie that I used earlier, and let’s frame each step of that explanation as a question we can all ask ourselves and/or our teams in order to better craft our case — i.e., explain why our ideas should exist.
1) What do they WANT? “Remember last week, when you told me you wanted to be healthier?” I’m implying that whatever I say next is related to what you want, perhaps even delivering it to you. I am immediately aligning myself with your goals. Start by articulating what they WANT.
2) What do they BELIEVE about what they want? “You also said the usual healthy drinks are gross.” Now I’m telling you my forthcoming idea will take into account what you believe. You have biases, hopes, fears, and principles. Without acknowledging those, we may be aligned with what we WANT … but misaligned about what that takes.
An easy example comes from my own marketing career: I worked for a marketing tech company which published a lot of really shallow content and forced readers to fill out tons of forms for weak value behind those forms. We both WANTED to grow the company and hit our lead totals each month. But we BELIEVED in different paths to get there. Any idea I brought to my bosses had to be framed with their belief system in mind, otherwise, I didn’t stand a chance.
By articulating the belief you have when I hand you the green smoothie (“health smoothies are gross”), I’m telling you: You’ve been heard. Your opinions matter, and you’re influencing our direction.
(Note: Make sure you actually know what they believe. Nothing would kill an idea quite like saying, “And I know how much you hate fun, boss! AMIRIGHT?! Huh? Boss? Why are you making that face?” Buuut enough about the time Larry got fired…)
3) What is your REASONING? “I got some mango, some apple, some kiwi, a banana, a handful of kale, and some protein powder.” Here, we can finally begin to explain ourselves. We started by getting on the same page with what you WANT and what you BELIEVE. We are shoulder-to-shoulder know. We’re partners in trying to do or achieve something. Now then, let me walk you step by step, in logical fashion. I’m laying out all the ingredients that take up the idea.
Not making a smoothie? This may be a harder step. Let’s say it was a podcast — a big, creative, atypical kinda show you want to convince your CMO to greenlight. Rather than fruits and some kale, you might talk about, “What if …. we took the strong stances on our industry that we’re already taking whenever you give a speech or we write a blog post … and we tried to own a bigger theme in the market that competitors wish they owned … and we delivered it in a way that got people to pay attention to us for hours of their month each month … and we focused on audio since that’s a medium with less competition in our space and one that helps us reach customers in a new time of day than they normally interact with us…”
Lay out the thinking in logical fashion. This is the pathway to the idea, aka, the ingredients.
So, I am aligned with you based on what you WANT and what you BELIEVE about what you want. I’ve laid out my REASONING. But now comes the twist…
4) What is our UNFAIR ADVANTAGE? “I was on an island where a bartender used coconut oil in my drinks, so I added that, because it’s delicious.” This part is crucial, but often overlooked. Remember: I’m not simply handing you any old smoothie. I’m trying to delight the crap outta your taste buds. We don’t want to make “yet another a podcast.” We want to impress the hell outta the listeners and grow a passionate audience that loves us and trusts us and buys from us and can’t stop talking about us because HAVE YOU HEARD THEIR PODCAST?!
(Take a breath, Jay. Take a breath…)
We don’t just care the letter of the law. We care about the spirit. We want to do exceptional work — work that feels like it’s an exception to the status quo. To do that, we have to add a differentiating factor, an inspired twist, something that makes it ours and not a copycat, been-there, done-that idea. As my friend and fellow speaker Scott Monty likes to ask, “Do you want to read a case study, or do you want to be a case study?”
Pull from your own experience of the world, and from the skills and sensibilities of your team. That’s your unfair advantage. Are you currently using it?
Add your inspired twist. Deploy that unfair advantage.
5) What will this REQUIRE? “Oh, and by the way, we have a blender in the kitchen already, so in almost no time, I blended all of this stuff together.” At this point, I’ve got you interested in drinking the smoothie, and so the discussion of cost makes sense here instead of up front. You’re more likely to think, “How can we get this done?” than to wonder, “How is he trying to gouge me?” Since you feel like a cofounder of my idea, you’re more invested in it.
What will it take? This amount of money, time, or team. Bonus points if you’ve actually found those resources yourself. (“And we already had a blender!” “And we’re wasting this amount of budget and time publishing all this blog content that gets zero views per month!”)
We’ve come so far, even if this unfolded over a single minute. We’re aligned on what you WANT. We’re aligned on what you BELIEVE about getting what you want. You understand my REASONING, and you’re excited by our chance to use our UNFAIR ADVANTAGE. You even understand what it will REQUIRE in resources. And now and only now should I unleash my overeager self. He’s been chomping at the bit for this part the entire time…
6) REVEAL THE IDEA. “So if you want to be healthier and you think the usual healthy drinks or gross, well…” (places glass on table) “It’s a green smoothie. Wanna try it?”
Look, I get it: This feels like more work. And maybe at first, that’s true. At first, you may find yourself carefully thinking through your talking points or reflecting on what inspirational sources actually triggered that idea. But just like the skill that lets you come up with great ideas so naturally (your intuition), the more you communicate like this, the easier it flows.
Albert Einstein supposedly called intuition “our most sacred gift.” In no way should we bury that gift or even slow its ability to generate ideas in an instant. But we can’t simply hand others our ideas simply because “we just know.” Because they don’t. Worse, we then leave it to them to try and understand WHY we “just know” an idea is worth pursuing. We need to avoid that information disadvantage, not by sharing all the information we have all at once, but the right information in the right order. We need to stop sharing our ideas and start sharing why our ideas should exist. If we did, maybe we’d finally get the reaction we REALLY want in our quest to do exceptional work:
“That was great! Can I have some more?”