Posted by White Rhino

When it comes to sharing innovative ideas, there are two ways the response could go. 

On one side, there’s the lean forward. The audience collectively shifts their shoulders forward, their eyes widen, they reposition themselves – they get ready to engage. On the other side of the spectrum, is the eye roll. Listeners lean back and quickly begin to focus elsewhere, dismissing whatever they’re being told. 

You’ve likely heard of the innovator’s dilemma, a term coined by Clayton Christensen. Established companies have a strong disincentive to innovate because it threatens the status quo of their growth. Less talked about, but possibly more prevalent because it affects any innovator regardless of company size, is the challenge that innovators face when sharing their new ideas. While most know the response they want from their audience, they don’t know how to get it. And the most discouraging part is that our ideas aren’t the problem. It’s how we communicate them. 

We’ve seen it time and again in our focus industries (although it extends to any innovative area): Sustainability leaders losing their audience immediately because their future vision is not in touch with the current reality. Healthcare marketing executives told that their aspirations for digital patient experience are not a priority. Product teams within B2B organizations that can’t get enough funding for their B2C initiatives.

Here are three things we wish they’d known before they shared their big idea: 


Don't get caught up on the intent.

It’s easy to get caught up in wanting others to share the same motivations as you. But the truth is, if you do a good job relating to what your stakeholders care about, you can get them to the same outcome even if they have a different mission in mind. Some may be driven by the same morals, while others may be more influenced by the economic benefits of your innovation. Respect these different starting points and focus on how diverse paths can converge on the common goal.


Stop advocating for the long-term. 

Business leaders face immense pressure for short-term results (think, quarterly). Don’t expect them to be able to relate to or act on a distant reality or problem. Relate it to today if you want a real response. 

For example, as a sustainability leader, if you’re trying to convince others about a more sustainable and resilient planet, you’re in for an uphill battle. But if you shift your message to focus on business stability, then you’re talking their language. Relate to the present-day challenges of supply chain resilience. Acknowledge that environmental sustainability can’t come at the cost of business performance. Discuss how sustainability helps foster a stable operating environment and reduces the risks associated with resource scarcity and regulatory changes.

In this video for Microsoft, there’s a clear message that environmental and business sustainability go hand-in-hand:


Don't shout from the rooftops.

You’re working on something exciting and life-changing. But resist the urge to fill everyone in right away. Behavior change takes time, and while you can clearly see the road ahead, internal teams are on a different path. Know that your new idea will very often represent a risk to the current, more comfortable ways of working.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t say anything. Instead, think about how you’ll want to build your message over time. What aspects of your vision most relate to what your leaders are facing today? What’s the next logical pain point that they can relate to? What proof points and success metrics can you lean into? Do you need them to buy into the entire vision today? What key points of alignment do you need to continue to propel your work forward?


Even with these strategies, it’s most difficult to get the response you want if you’re trying to drive innovation within the walls of an established company. Organizations that are on a particular trajectory are laser-focused on the stability of the current business model. They’re naturally going to focus on reinforcing the thing that has been driving their success. These habits leave little room for innovative change.

However, that doesn’t make these lessons less important, in fact, it makes them even more crucial. We’ve witnessed that when innovation initiatives have vocal support from the top levels of management, the nature of that innovation becomes woven into the fabric of corporate strategy, making it a priority across the organization. Their endorsement not only legitimizes the efforts but also significantly aids in the initial buy-in and prioritization of high-impact projects.

In marketing and innovation, we spend so much time thinking about how to motivate external audiences that we often miss our most important one: our internal stakeholders. 

Where they fall on the response spectrum may be the single biggest indicator of innovation success. Start employing these strategies and watch them not only lean into, but advocate your work. 

Topics: Behavior Change