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David Soren managed to pull off what the rest of us only fantasize about.
Without forming a focus group, conducting a marketing survey or even ditching his day job, he dreamed up the idea for the animated 3-D comedy, Turbo, coming to movie theaters in July.
Granted, his day job happens to be a storyboard artist at DreamWorks Animation, where creating a movie about an ordinary snail that dreams of going fast and winds up in the Indianapolis 500 wasn’t too big of a stretch. After all, DreamWorks actively solicits creative ideas from all employees, who learn how to sell movie concepts in a program called “Life’s a Pitch.”
But you don’t have to be a storyboard artist at DreamWorks to turn your next “ah ha!” moment at work into a revolutionary new product, service or cost-cutting process that earns you accolades. Here’s how to become a modern-day Thomas Edison and get your ideas out of your head, into the right hands and on to development.
The “eureka!” moment
How do you know whether you have a good—or even great—idea? “Whenever you think, ‘There’s got to be a better way,’ there’s an opportunity for a great idea, one that could create tremendous value in the workplace,” says Jim Haudan, author of The Art of Engagement: Bridging the Gap Between People and Possibilities and CEO and founder of Root, a strategic change and employee engagement consulting firm.
Breakthrough ideas challenge the norm and can emerge by asking yourself: Is there a more effective or efficient way to perform this task? How do I reduce the number of steps? Is there a more creative way of leveraging technology? Is there a new product or service the company can provide? Once a “Eureka!” moment strikes, it’s easy to presume getting your idea approved will be a snap. You can see how brilliant your idea is, won’t everyone else? Truth is, you will still need to convince your boss, the executive committee or whatever group will decide your idea’s fate.
Your key to success is pitching your idea in a simple, yet compelling way, says Timothy R. Clark, founder and CEO of TRClark and author of The Employee Engagement Mindset: The Six Drivers for Tapping into the Hidden Potential of Everyone in Your Company. The management consulting firm recommends presenting the gist of the idea, followed by three questions senior management will likely ask: Why should we do this? How are we going to do this (is it really feasible)? What will employees have to do differently?”
Be a pinball wizard
To understand how innovations emerge in the workplace, Haudan says to visualize a pinball machine, with an idea bouncing off others until it scores. Invite your company’s important stakeholders into your game before you ask them to sign off on your idea. They may see something in your idea that you didn’t, help you improve and expand on it, raise questions or concerns early in the process—or warn you your proposal doesn’t stand a fighting chance. “Don’t look to build Rome if your leadership team isn’t interested in anything Roman,” says Bob Kelleher, author of Louder Than Words: 10 Practical Employee Engagement Steps that Drive Results and CEO of The Employee Engagement Group.
Preparation is key for meetings with stakeholders. Be ready for your chief financial officer to quiz you about ROI and your chief marketing officer to delve into market research and the market need. As you gain champions for your idea within your organization, keep in mind the proper chain of command, advises Ethan Burris, assistant professor of management at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin. “It’s politically dangerous to speak sideways to your colleagues or to go around your boss,” he says.
Making your (power) point
Once you’re ready to make your formal pitch, focus on one or two key points versus giving an overly detailed analysis that can distract your audience. Tailor the specifics of your message to your audience, and how your idea benefits them, along with the company or customer. “We have found some of the best ways to present ideas are through stories, icons, cartoons or metaphors,” Haudan says. Beyond the traditional PowerPoint presentation, Haudan recommends considering three-minute video clips or customer interviews to document your concept. “You want to portray what impact this idea will have on the people who use it,” he says, as well as the company. “Why [will] they see it as new and different, more valuable or a breakthrough?”
Once your idea gets the green light, don’t be shy about self-promotion. “Capture it as a bullet point on your resume, and see if your company is comfortable having you Tweet it or put it on [their] Facebook page,” Kelleher says. “Never underestimate the importance of your personal brand, both inside and outside the company."
And you might just land an impressive new job title. Just ask David Soren, whose high-speed snail put him on the fast track, from storyboard artist to director.
If a co-worker steals your idea and takes credit, once the anger and sheer indignation wear off, you’re stuck trying to figure out what to do next. Bob Kelleher, author of Louder Than Words: 10 Practical Employee Engagement Steps that Drive Results and CEO of The Employee Engagement Group, offers the following tips:
- Meet with your co-worker to find out what happened. Approach the conversation in a calm and professional way without jumping to conclusions. It may be a misunderstanding or a simple oversight on your co-worker’s part.
- Make an appointment with your company’s HR specialist. If you’re not satisfied after speaking to your co-worker, HR can likely resolve the problem and give credit where credit is due.
Lori K. Baker is an award-winning journalist who specializes in human-interest profiles, business and health. Her articles have appeared in Ladies’ Home Journal, Family Circle, Arizona Highways and Johns Hopkins Health.