Is your idea being rejected? You might be on to something…

In 1975, two years after graduating from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Steven J. Sasson invented the world’s first digital camera. It was 3.4 kg and images took 23 seconds to be captured in black and white on a cassette. When he presented his idea to his management at Kodak they famously replied “that’s cute—but don’t tell anyone about it”. Twenty-four years after Kodak dismissed this unbelievable opportunity, Barack Obama awarded Sasson the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. The global market for photography has never been the same, and neither has Kodak.

There are so many insights and learnings we get from this story. Insights about disruptive innovation, bottom-up innovation, strategy, management, culture, the list goes on. What I’d like to discuss is something that brings us right back to basics. Why do great innovations sometimes get rejected? What do we have against creativity?

In a series of studies, Jennifer Mueller and her team researched perceptions about creative ideas when participants were faced with uncertainty. What she found was very interesting. Not only do participants have a natural tendency to reject ideas outside the status quo, when participants were feeling higher levels of uncertainty they were significantly less able to recognise creative ideas. So even when your management wants to implement creative ideas, the reality is they may struggle to not only accept creative ideas, but also to recognise them! It might not be your idea that gets rejected, it might be the levels of uncertainty your management is feeling that is the barrier.

Here are two practical tips that will decrease uncertainty in your audience and increase your chance of getting your idea over the line.

  • Bring your idea closer to the status quo. Is there a similar idea implemented in a different industry or somewhere abroad? If so, make sure you communicate that.
  • Prime your audience by getting them to think about the following sentence: ‘For every problem, there is more than one correct solution’ prior to your pitch. Your audience will be more likely to recognise a creative idea as a result.