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Pitching a new idea? Four questions to ask yourself first

March 15, 2017

Breaking new ground can be hard to do. For example, that great idea you have for a new product. You’ve thought about it (a lot), and you feel like you’ve got it all figured out. When you try to explain it to someone else though, the idea seems to fall flat. They just don’t get it. Your passion and excitement turns into frustration as it becomes clear that your audience isn’t seeing the brilliance that you see. Often though, it’s not the idea that’s the problem; it’s the way it’s being communicated that is causing issues.

When we work with clients to come up with new and innovative ideas, we use a variety of Innovation Engineering tools. One of the most important tools in our kit is the Yellow Card. When a group of participants generate ideas in a Create session, each person records their idea on a Yellow Card. Simply stated, it’s a framework used to outline an idea. It makes you think deeper about your idea, and as a result, it makes it easier to communicate your idea to others.

Instead of ending up frustrated that those around you who just “don’t get it”, think out your idea and write it down. As you prepare for your pitch, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Who is your customer?

That is, who is this idea for? Who benefits most from your idea? Perhaps you’re trying to sell an idea that will improve the efficiency of the production line where you work. In that case, is your customer your boss? Your company? Or someone else entirely? Clarifying who the customer is for your idea is an important step to effectively communicating the idea itself.

Be sure to be as specific as possible when stating who your customer is. For example, stating your customer is “Children in grades 1 to 3 who play soccer” is much more descriptive than saying “Children”.

  1. What is the customer’s problem that you’re trying to solve?

We define an innovation as something that is both meaningful (it addresses a problem or opportunity) and unique (no one else is doing it). When you identify the problem that your customer has, essentially you’re addressing why your idea is meaningful. You may have a unique idea, but if it doesn’t solve a problem or take advantage of an opportunity, it won’t be meaningful to anyone.

It is also possible that the customer doesn’t realize that they have this problem. In that case, you need to sell that problem as much as your idea to solve it. This is often how great innovations begin. Customers are usually good at identifying ways a product or service they are familiar with could be improved; what they aren’t as good at is imagining what the next disruptive idea will be that completely changes the way they do things.

  1. What are you promising to the customer?

What does your customer’s life look like thanks to your idea? In the form of a short statement, the promise should clearly state the benefit of your idea, and ideally includes a numeric component. For example, a promise statement could be “You will spend 70% less time getting your toddler’s winter clothes on.” This clearly states how beneficial the idea is to the customer, in the form of significant time savings.

  1. What’s your proof?

How does your idea actually work? How is it going to deliver on the promise you made that will solve the customer’s problem? This is when you explain your idea, including all of the details. If it’s physical, describe in detail what it looks like (or create a prototype). If it’s a system, describe clearly how it all fits together. The person listening to you should be clearly able to understand your idea because of all of the detail you’re providing here.

Using this Customer-Problem-Promise-Proof framework leads to more developed and thoughtful ideas. Keep working with the framework so that each piece fits with the other and the idea makes sense (it usually takes a few revisions to get it right). When you communicate your idea within the framework, your audience will immediately have a better understanding of the new idea you’re excited about. After all, it would be a shame for a good idea to go to waste just because it was lost in communication.


To learn more about this framework and how it ties to innovation, check out the Innovation Engineering Quick Start Course

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