Kissing Frogs: Thoughts From Being Rejected #7 #cong17


The world is often not as enthusiastic about your innovation as you are. How dare they? Some thoughts on getting other people to take up your innovation, based on being turned down many times.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Even if your idea really is brilliant, you’ll get rejected a lot.
  2. Think about why you want people to care about your innovation – is it ego or is it money? Those two can be in conflict.
  3. Describing innovations in words is hard – at some point, you need to show people.
  4. Think about how you can reduce the risk that the person trying out your innovation is taking on

About Iain Morrow:

Iain is an expert in financial modelling, who has been developing them for over 2 decades. He has spent long periods in both public and private sectors, with a focus on infrastructure and long term planning. His latest company, Open Box Models, makes software that helps people produce – and understand – complex spreadsheets.

Contacting Iain Morrow:

You can see Iain’s work on the OpenBox Websiteor follow him on Twitter.

Kissing frogs: thoughts from being rejected.

Having an innovative idea, and even producing something as a result, are only first steps. As anyone who has made something new knows, other people can be less admiring of your new creation that you are.

But why do you care what people think, first of all? It’s perfectly possible to make something new for personal satisfaction, or as artistic expression, or as an academic exercise. If you care about people’s opinions, you are looking for something else: validation/ ego boost, or money.  That makes innovation sound a little less high-minded, but it’s true. You want other people to give you something for your innovation.

It’s actually easy enough to get ego boost. In his great book, “the Mom Test”, [xx] points out that people have an inbuilt tendency to tell you that your idea is wonderful, out of simple politeness. Most people are not rude.

So, we’re left with money. There’s a joke in there somewhere about a Scotsman ending up talking about money, but I’ll leave that to you.

Getting money out of people is quite hard. You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find your financial prince(ss). People come up with all sorts of reasons to avoid giving it to you. Sometimes those are helpful feedback and sometimes they are just lies. Examples I’ve heard are:

If it just did this one other thing.

I’d need to get approval from our US head office.

I’m [ploughing this week] and will call you when I get back

So why have I been rejected so much? Looking back, there are many reasons, but they boil down to benefit, risk and novelty.

Some people I spoke to just don’t care enough. My innovation might be useful to them once a year, for a few days, but are they willing to take time and money.

Risk is a more interesting one. Taking on someone else’s innovation is hugely risky. Do they know what they are doing? Will it work with my life/ company/ colleagues? In many ways, this is comparable to what investors do when they consider putting money into a company. What are the ways that this company can go wrong? It is slightly different, in that investors are putting their money into the future of the company as a whole, not just a single innovation. But the principle is the same – what are the risks of this innovation?

Let me give you an example. I have some software that produces financial projections automatically. In theory, it has all the advantages of automation over people – faster, fewer mistakes and so on. But a common response is “what if it gives the wrong answer”. What if it produces a projection that says that my company is worth 50 million when it should be 200 million? Or why should I change a process that works already? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

How do you overcome this? By reducing the risk. You can’t offer to take it away – you aren’t credible to do that. But demonstrate the product, for free if necessary. Run a parallel trial against the current process. Show quick wins.

The final challenge is novelty. This is actually the one people talk least about. But for an innovative idea, the hardest part can be telling people what it is! People know what they use now to solve their problem. Are you like their current solution? Or not? Imagine describing a car to people who’ve only seen a horse and cart. People simply don’t understand, or don’t believe, you.

One way to overcome this is “we are the X for Y”. This goes some way towards it, but I’ve had lots of difficult conversations. One person’s clear analogy is another person’s further confusion. Is describing your product as “a 3D printer for financial models” clear or unclear? It’s worked with some but not others.

The only way I’ve found to really overcome this is to SHOW people. Lots of startup advice pushes in the opposite direction – discuss people’s problems, understand their issues, don’t lead with the solution. And that’s good advice, as far as it goes. But it’s not a complete conversation. You have to show people at some point, if you want them to understand.

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