Here’s what no one ever tells you: Find a way to care less about the outcome of your ideas.
As humans, we are exceptional self-saboteurs when we want something too much. And that idea you have, the one you’re chasing that can change everything, is probably what you want more than anything else. This holds true at any stage of a career. Whether pitching a solution to your manager, your startup to investors, or a new business model to the C-suite, there will be times when you’re driven by an overwhelming desire for your idea to succeed.
Fight that desire.
If you don’t, it risks falling at the first hurdle that every idea faces. This hurdle isn’t budget, timing, or competition. It’s the moment when you sell the idea to the people needed to bring it to life. Caring too much at that moment leads to overselling, performing, and complexity. All things that deter your audience and ultimately stop your idea from getting made.
Instead, try a visualization technique that helps you recognize and avoid these pitfalls: Think of the persona and traits of a surgeon. Why a surgeon? Because they embody the highest-stakes form of trust we would ever place in someone whose counsel we require. It is the perfect guide to selling your idea effectively.
A DEGREE OF INDIFFERENCE
Consider the first trap: When we care too much, we oversell. We try to make our audience’s decision for them, in order to speed it up and guide the idea toward certainty. Except, we achieve the opposite.
Instead, present your idea like the surgeon you would want treating you, and your audience will assign you far more affinity.
An expert surgeon has no agenda other than to help. They do not need our business, and they conduct themselves accordingly.
Imagine you have a torn ligament in your knee. The surgeon you don’t want will begin the session by pointing to accolades and seeming evidence of success—the photo of them shaking hands with someone important. They will tell you it’s the worst tear they’ve seen, that they are the only ones who can help, that time is running out, and you’re lucky you found them. They will overplay the urgency of the decision in front of you. This would be the hard sell—you’re under pressure, and it feels transactional.
On the other hand, the surgeon you do want will recognize the challenge and how this injury is holding you back from enjoying your regular activities. They will present a clear process and solution—the day-case procedure, followed by six months of rehab—and let you know that when you’re ready, they are there to help. No overselling. And not total indifference, just a slight degree of it.
We are all preprogrammed to detach from the hard sell and any of its old motifs, such as the agent selling the car or corporate stock. This is called psychological reactance—any hint of our freedom of decision-making being taken away triggers an immediate need to regain control. The appropriate surgeon, however, allows their audience to think things through and make an informed decision on their terms.
Identifying reactance behavior helps free us from any latent stereotypes of the hard sell, or oversell, and to avoid becoming theatrical. This risk is the result of how we see ideas pitched in popular culture: think Shark Tank, Dragons’ Den, Don Draper.
These are heightened environments. It’s entertainment. Scenarios that are designed to encourage the extremes from people so the home audience gets a kick. It’s always a performance. In reality, ideas are sold in much quieter moments.
Your audience doesn’t want to be entertained by you; they want their problem solved.
When we care too much, we think overt passion will lead to a memorable delivery and, therefore, success. This version of passion, or performance passion, is the hallmark of billion-dollar companies that once were—and are now the satirization of Silicon Valley. WeWork and Theranos have been dramatized for a reason. People are now tuned in to these hallmarks and will figuratively or literally show you the door if you exhibit them.
It’s the idea that needs to be memorable, not the moment. Visualizing the “ideal” surgeon will help remind you that the interaction should not be based on theatrics, and your audience does not want to be talked at. Instead, it should feel like a conversation.
CURATOR OF INFORMATION
Equally important is avoiding complexity. Brevity is a lost art. Even our surgeon, however much they want to help, is short on time. As a result, they will use precise sentences, pregnant pauses, and assemble their words for maximum clarity so we (not anyone else) understand them. We get minutes to digest high-stakes news.
They are also a great curator of information. In that room, you don’t need the 130-year history of anterior cruciate ligament repair. You don’t need the manufacturer of the scalpel or method of suture. You need to understand what’s in store for your life now and shortly after so you can make an informed decision.
When we care too much, we think more is more. We deliver so much information while we try to showcase our genius that we reach the point of unworkable complexity. This is the 100-page deck or the 30 minutes reciting some “unique” consultancy framework that clouds the idea itself. Follow our surgeon and deliver the information that’s needed at that moment and nothing more.
IT’S ABOUT THEM, NOT YOU
The moment of selling an idea is heavy with either self-regulation or compensation. It’s not an easy moment because it means something to you. It should. But there are traps that can derail it as a result.
The surgeon’s “pitch” doesn’t mean to be morbid or serious; it means humanity. Humanity stops your pitch from being theatrical, which, in other words, is artificial. It removes the hard sell that makes the encounter a cold transaction. And it makes you give the most relevant information in a way that’s most easily digestible as opposed to trying to impress your audience by giving all you have—a reminder that it’s about them, not you.
Communicate your idea like the surgeon you would want treating you, and you will have a much higher chance of seeing your idea through to execution.
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