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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

Your 5-Step Plan for Selling a Big, Crazy Idea to Your Team

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The best ideas are often the craziest. Like unlimited vacation time. Or a service for staying in beautiful homes, not hotels, while traveling. Or a podcast interview instead of an informational interview.

The problem with getting from great idea to great success? Unless you’re a one-man show, you’ll need to convince your colleagues that your idea is crazy in a good way—not in a “ha ha, maybe when pigs fly” way. Here’s how to get your team enthusiastic about your out-of-the-box vision.

1. Prepare

I know—you’ve just had the idea of a lifetime. You were so inspired you woke up in the middle of the night thinking about it, and all you want to do is run to the office and tell all of your co-workers about it over your morning coffee.

Not so fast. Great idea or not, if it’s going to have any chance of succeeding with the higher-ups, you’re going to need to do some research on what the impact to your team or company will be. How, exactly, will it work in reality? How much will it cost in time and resources? What new policies or infrastructure will be necessary to implement it? What are some potential road blocks? Most importantly, what are the possible pay-offs—and how likely are they to happen?

For example, say you were the person to come up with Google’s 20% rule, which allows engineers to spend up to 20% of their time working on creative projects unrelated to their day jobs. Before you pitched the idea, you’d want to have a comprehensive explanation of how the 20% rule would be established, the potential risks to the company (and how to minimize those risks), and, of course, what Google could achieve if the idea was implemented.

(For the record, the 20% rule actually led to Gmail; see what I mean about crazy, but amazing?)

2. Enlist the Troops

Got some data points to back up your idea? Good. Now, find a fresh pair of eyes to point out the strengths and weaknesses of it that you may have missed. Ask one or two of your work allies—people who are trustworthy, supportive, and most importantly, honest—if you can pitch to them. (This will also be great practice for presenting to your boss or team.) Let them know they shouldn’t hold back in voicing their concerns about and immediate reactions to the notion.

Hopefully, they’ll be able to give you an accurate picture of how other colleagues might react. In addition, you’ll find the areas of your argument you should more thoroughly flesh out. If you’re proposing, say, an unlimited vacation time policy for your department, and your test group has a million questions about whether employees will feel pressured to never take time off at all, you can preemptively come up with solutions to help counteract that argument.

3. Make a Plan

Armed with your research and your colleagues’ ideas, it’s time to put your plan on paper. When you bring it to decision makers, you’ll want to make sure you can clearly demonstrate how much time you’ve spent thinking about it and examining all of the possible consequences; since your idea is a bit bizarre, your colleagues have an automatic reason to reject it. Don’t make their cases stronger by neglecting to fully sketch out how it would work.

For example, let’s say you’re advocating for building a nap room in the office. You’d want to cover:

  • How much it would cost to build
  • The usage policy (Could employees go in there any time? How many at once? How long could they stay?)
  • Who would be responsible for maintaining the room and making sure “napping privileges” weren’t abused
  • Why napping is so beneficial to productivity
  • The positive effects on employee health and happiness
  • Successful companies with nap rooms (The Huffington Post!)

While you might not present this written plan right away, it’s important to have it in your back pocket to show that you’ve thought everything through. Once you do, it’s time to…

4. Make the Pitch

If you’re bringing your plan straight to your supervisor, you’ll want to tailor your presentation to his or her communication style. Maybe your manager is a “show me the numbers” person; in that case, you’ll want lots of cold, hard data and logic-based statements, such as, “When each employee was given an iPad at these four companies, team projects were completed twice as quickly and employee satisfaction went up. Giving our team members iPads could boost our efficiency and happiness, as well.”

In contrast, you might have a boss who makes decisions based on gut instinct. Your pitch should appeal to his or imagination; try something like, “Think how much easier communicating with each other will be with an open office. Our collaboration will go through the roof!”

If you’re making your case to a group of people, the next item on your to-do list is to find a yes-man. One voice pushing a wacky vision is much easier to dismiss than two voices, so having a supporter in your meetings will instantly boost your co-workers’ readiness to go with your pitch.

Hopefully, you already have a friend or work confidante who will back you up. However, if you don’t, pick out a person who you think will be receptive to your idea, and approach her. Solicit her opinion of your plan, and address any reservations she has. (You’ll be well-ready for this, thanks to steps one through three.) After you’ve gotten the team member enthusiastic, then ask if you can count on her to demonstrate that support when you present to your colleagues.

5. Have a Compromise in Your Back Pocket

It’s always good to have a plan B. Although your boss or colleagues might consider your initial suggestion a little too insane, they may be willing to adopt a modified form—or a test run. Come up with a mini or trial version of your idea that you can propose if you get the vibe no one wants to go for the full-fledged, completely crazy idea—for example, getting iPads for the office to share instead of one for every person, or launching your PR plan in one market instead of the whole country.

And stay positive. You might encounter a lot of nay-saying and resistance, but that shouldn’t dampen your enthusiasm. Hold on to the reasons why you were so jazzed about your idea in the first place! If you can maintain your confidence, your co-workers might just start to share it.

Crazy is often synonymous with genius. By presenting your kooky idea the right way, you have the opportunity to change your job, your company, your industry—or even the world.