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Why your great idea isn’t getting a fair hearing

Published: December 3, 2017 / No Comments

It happens all the time. You’re super confident about the potential for a new business idea, but when you try to present it… your audience fails to see it your way. Why? It’s easy to blame outside factors. Maybe the audience lacks vision, or the company culture is inflexible. Those could be true, but it’s also possible that your idea isn’t connecting, because the story is weak. Change your story, and you’ll change the way people listen.

Typically, we think about storytelling for ads or videos. But stories are also powerful tools for laying out a vision, ensuring that the best ideas in your company don’t get buried. When you teach people how to use stories to explain a business idea, you’re unlocking valuable intellectual property within your organization.

Organizational storytelling

Here are some of the most common mistakes we see in our organizational storytelling workshops.

You’re solving the wrong problem
Many ideas fail to compel because they are framed as the solution to a problem the listener doesn’t care about. Worse, somewhere in the back of your mind you’re thinking, “My boss thinks everything is fine, but she has no clue. We have to fix this!”

Let’s pause right here, because this point is really important. A mindset of “my boss/peer/customer doesn’t get it” is extremely unhelpful in storytelling. If you want your idea to get a fair hearing, you must never define the target audience of your idea as the problem. It’s up to us, as storytellers, to show them the value.

Besides, would you listen to a story from someone who is quietly communicating that somehow you are the villain? So the most effective story framework solves a problem that matters to the listener.

Your story must solve a problem that the listener cares about.

To do this you must have genuine empathy for the position of the person you are trying to persuade. Start by imagining yourself sitting in that person’s exact place, and having all their particular concerns, hopes and fears. This is the entry point.

Not accounting for PITA (
No one likes extra work. So, very often your idea isn’t getting through because while you’re imagining all the potential upside, your listener is imagining all the extra work. Your story must account for this. Who’s going to shoulder the extra work? Why will they be willing to do it? What’s the payoff that makes it all worthwhile? Remember, the payoff can’t be only for you. It has to be for everyone, especially for the person you are pitching the idea to.

While you are imagining all the possibilities, your listener is imagining all the work.

In short, when you ask someone to make a change, even a very good one, you must account for how much of a pain it’s going to be to implement.

The victory feels too vague
Another ice pick in the heart of getting your idea a hearing is vague corporate-speak. Forget about phrases like “real-time strategic placement” or “cloud-first analytics.” No one cares. Even claiming your idea will save money or increase productivity sounds more like hope than proof. You will dramatically improve the likelihood of being believed by making your story specific and concrete with as much data as possible.

For example, which of these two sentences sounds more believable to you?

If we change our process, we will reduce the error rate and increase productivity.

With smaller, more frequent shipments, we’ll catch errors 3 times faster, and improve productivity by 22%.

You see the difference? Used wisely, data will make your story feel more believable. Just remember that the data should support your story, not overwhelm it.

Story target audience hero

You’re hogging the glory
In every great story there is a hero and a villain. Too often, we want to frame ourselves as the hero. This is a crucial mistake. The target of your idea is always the hero. Always.

I know, I know, you hate giving credit for your good idea, especially to the person who is stubbornly resisting. Sorry, this post is not about who gets credit. It’s about getting your idea a fair hearing. Do it by making your listener the hero.

To help your story rise above the noise in a busy workplace, you have to make your audience care. Do it with a story that puts them at the center of your big idea, and shows them how they come out a hero at the end. With that booster shot, your idea will finally have a fighting chance, no matter how  far up the food chain it has to climb.

To learn more about organizational storytelling workshops for your teams, email

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