Innovations are rejected for how they make make people feel long before they are reviewed on their merits. Why is it? Any new idea solicits a reaction from the people who are in decision path to approve and fund the development. The most common of emotions is fear.
Fear is an interesting emotion. It elicits either the “fight” or “flight” response. In the case of rejecting an idea with the “fight” response, the reaction is typically to attach the idea (won’t work, I have a better idea, etc). For the “flight” response, the reaction is to downplay the idea based on risk or impact (the impact is too small to move the needle, its to radical of a change for us, etc).
Where most innovators fail is they attempt to come up with answers to the rejection (why the idea will work, why its not such a radical idea, etc) rather than recognizing and addressing the emotion that is driving the rejection. If a key person has a strong fear response to your idea, it is doomed.
What drives the fear of innovation?
- Ego – I won’t support an idea that I didn’t come up with.
- Corporate Politics – We will look bad since this is our area of responsibility.
- Security — I’ve worked hard to get where I’m at and this is risky. I could loose everything.
- Success/Change – We are doing great with what we have. Why would we want to change?
So what should you do? Develop strategies to address the fear before the rejection. For example, if ego is the anticipated reaction, get key individuals involved early so they can “claim” ownership. If the response is corporate politics, have the leaders who have significant influence on the decision get involved and then present the idea so they get viewed as providing mentorship to the idea.
Is this dishonest or misleading? No. In my experience, when you get key leaders involved early, they typically buy in since you’ve asked for their input. Use this involvement to share the credit rather than blaming management for the rejection because you believe they “don’t get it”.
Let’s be honest, its not just “others” who exhibit fear. We all do depending on our individual roles and circumstances when it comes to evaluating ideas.
Remember, recognize the fear and address the emotion rather than the rejection.
Most important of all, resist the fear when evaluating at new ideas. You could be the problem.