If we want people to accept our original ideas, we need to speak up about them, then rise and repeat.

71q7mhjgucl-_ac_ul160_sr108160_This is the fifth in 5 blog posts I will be doing on Adam Grant’s fantastic book “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World.”

A big part of my job is to research new technologies and determine how they can be leveraged to engage as many students as possible in thinking, planning, and reflecting on their student employment and cooperative education.

In this post I’d like to suggest 2 pro tips to get other people to believe in your original ideas:

  1. If we want people to accept our original ideas, we need to speak up about them, then rise and repeat.
  2. Lead with the limitations of an idea: it makes you look smart.

When Facebook launched Farmville, I created a Facebook scavenger hunt game called OSAville (for the Office of Student Affairs). When Snapchat filters were big, I researched OpenCV and Python and created a computer vision visualization that superimposed a green mustache on the viewer. And when students commented that our social media posts were sounding too “businessy,” I created a Twitter clone and had a contest to find out who could write the best tweet.

Each idea required careful study to determine what outcomes I wanted to generate. On top of that, I had to pitch the idea to my supervisors. Some might say this is the hardest part of creating original ideas,

“This is the core challenge of speaking up with an original idea. When you present a new suggestion, you’re not only hearing the tune in your head. You wrote the song. You’ve spent hours, days, weeks, months, or maybe even years thinking about the idea. You’ve contemplated the problem, formulated the solution, and rehearsed the vision. You know the lyrics and the melody of your idea by heart. By that point, it’s no longer possible to imagine what is sounds like to an audience that’s listening to it for the first time.” – Adam Grant

That’s not to say that all of my ideas were approved. Some were approved the first time and some took more research and reframing to get at the heart of the idea.

Grant likens this necessary process to “the exposure effect – the more often we encounter something, the more we like it.”

Grant also provides step by step details on how to bring up your original idea often:

“Liking continues to increase as people are exposed to an idea between ten and twenty times, with additional exposure still useful for more complex ideas. Interestingly, exposures are more effective when they’re short and mixed with other ideas, to help maintain the audiences curiosity. It’s also best to introduce a delay between the presentation of the idea and the evaluation of it, which provides time for it to sink in. If you’re making a suggestion to a boss, you might start with a 30-second elevator pitch during a conversation on Tuesday, revisit it briefly the following Monday, and then ask for feedback at the end of the week.” – Adam Grant

His final tip on getting your ideas pitched and approved over time is to do something irrational – start with reasons why this is a stupid idea, why it’ll never work, or why it’s doomed to fail.

“When you are pitching a novel idea or speaking up with a suggestion for change, your audience is likely to be skeptical. Investors are looking to poke holes in your arugments; mangers are hunting for a reason why your suggestion won’t work. Under those circumstances, for at least four reasons, it’s actually more effective to adopt powerless communication by accentuating the flaws in your idea.” – Adam Grant

Why does this irrational approach work? Grant goes on to explain,

“When we’re aware that someone is trying to persuade us, we naturally raise our mental shields. Rampant confidence is a red flag – a signal that we need to defend ourselves against weapons of influence.” – Adam Grant

So maybe starting with the worst parts of your idea is better than looking like you discovered the fountain of youth:

“Unbridled optimism comes across as salesmanship; it seems dishonest somehow, and as a consequence it’s met with skepticism. Everyone is allergic to the feeling, or suspicious of being sold.” – Adam Grant

Be a prophet of doom with a killer idea:

“When people presented drawbacks or disadvantages, I would become an ally. Instead of selling me, they’ve given me a problem to solve. Prophets of doom and gloom appear wise and insightful while positive statements are seen as having a naive polyanna quality.” – Adam Grant

So now you know: you’re going to need to repeat your original ideas over and over again before other people start to accept them. Now you also know to lead with the potential deal-breaking attributes of your idea to look less manipulative.

I hope this post helped equip you for going out there and selling your ideas.  Got any questions? Contact me.



Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.

71q7mhjgucl-_ac_ul160_sr108160_This is the fourth in 5 blog posts I will be doing on Adam Grant’s fantastic book “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World.”

A few years ago, I read an interesting story in the book “Art and Fear: Observations On the Perils (and rewards) or Artmaking” by David Bayles. The story stuck with me. In the book, Bayles tells a story of a ceramics teacher who decided to try something new with his students.

At the beginning of the class the instructor split the group in half and said, “This half of the room will be judged and graded on the number of clay pots you create in this class.”

Then he gestured to the other side of the room saying, “And this half of the room will judged on how well they made a single clay pot at the end of the class.”

At the end of the class, who got the better grade? Think you know the answer? Hold on, I’ll tell you the answer at the end of this post.

Imagine my surprise when I heard the same lesson echoed in “Originals”:

“The best way to make good art is to make a lot of it. The odds of producing an influential or successful idea are a positive function of the total number of ideas generated. If you want to be original, the most important possible thing you could do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work.” – Adam Grant

Now do you feel like you know who got the better grade? The students who made tons of clay pots ended up getting the better grade. When the students who were to be judged on a single pot were given their task, the pending judgment prevented them from making a single clay pot. They were goaded in a state of paralysis.

Bottom line: don’t get caught up in thinking about the final result. Focus on the next step. Hell, if you have the resources, make many drafts. Your first few drafts will stink of hesitation and clumsiness. Keep pushing through those shitty drafts and soon you’ll start to see less of your lumbering, plodding, doubt. And the finesse and elegance of your self-editing will make the art sing.

Be like the poet Mandy Kahn when she says, “I never think further than the single poem I’m working on when I’m working.”

Keep your head down and remember,

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” – Adam Grant

Did this post help you get started? Email me, I’d love to hear about it.

Isolate yourself from the naysayers at your own peril

71q7mhjgucl-_ac_ul160_sr108160_This is the second in 5 blog posts I will be doing on Adam Grant’s fantastic book “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World.”

“Once a market becomes dynamic, big companies with strong cultures are too insular: They have a harder time recognizing the need for change, and they’re more likely to resist the insights of those who think differently.”

After building an empire with instant photos, Polaroid founder, Edwin H. Land, isolated himself from the naysayers as he attempted a second coup – the Polaroid movie camera. 

“When Polaroid president William McCune questioned the concept, Land complained to the board of directors and gained complete control over the project, working on a separate floor where naysayers were denied access. ‘He was able to override all kinds of objections and obvious reasons why things [were] not going to work. When he [was] doing something wild and risky, he [was] careful to insulate himself from anyone who’s critical.'” – Adam Grant

Unfortunately for Land, his method of insulating himself from the naysayers didn’t pay off. “The effort burned through about $600 million, and the board dethroned him.”

Contrast this to Ray Dalio at Bridgewater Associates who believes in “radical candor.”

Bridgewater has prevented groupthink by inviting dissenting opinions from every employee in the company.

“Although he has been called the Steve Jobs of investing, employees don’t communicate with him as if he’s anyone special. here’s an email that Jim, a client adviser, sent to Dalio after a meeting with an important potential client,

Ray – you deserve a D for your performance today… you rambled for 50 minutes… It was obvious to all of us that you did not prepare at all because there was no way you could have been that disorganized at the outset if you had prepared. We told you this prospect has been identified as a ‘must-win’… today was really bad… we can’t let this happen again.”

Can you imagine getting that kind of email from your employee? Suddenly “radical candor” doesn’t seem as appealing.

“At a typical company, sending an email this critical of a boss would be career suicide. But instead of reacting defensively, Dalio responded by asking others who attended the meeting to give him honest feedback and grade him on a scale from A to F. Then, instead of hiding Dalio’s shortcomings or attacking the author of the note, Bridgewater’s co-CEO copied the email trail to the entire company so that everyone could learn from the exchange.”

Now I propose a challenge. Which path will you take?

“Land knew how to ‘think different’ yet he created a company that didn’t.” – Adam Grant

Dalio’s “radical candor”might not work in every situation but consider how much farther you can get. Instead of running away, smoothing over, and tolerating bad behavior, embrace it, examine it, and take it head on. 

Did this post bring up any questions for you? Contact me, I’d love to hear about it. 

With practice you can learn to take insults with so much finesse and panache that they either disappear or never touch you.

Here’s the fifth and final post of 5 that I’m doing on the book “Verbal Judo – The Gentle Art of Persuasion” by George J. Thompson, Ph.D.

It’s only been a few months since I finished reading “Verbal Judo” but I have used the following tactic more than anything else. I’ll admit, I have a hard time taking criticism.

In the past I would just pretend that the hurtful words just weren’t said. But we all know that doesn’t work. A bully, having spoken insults and not getting any reaction will invariably turn up the volume and make you acknowledge him if you don’t the first time.

“The first step in learning to deal with verbal attacks is to acknowledge that crap is being flung. The second step is to admit that it is being flung at you. Then congratulate yourself. It’s okay to be questioned, heckled, or even attacked. If you are willing to take it, you should be commended. The only way to avoid criticism is either to live in a capsule or spend your whole life trying to please everyone. That means playing it safe, surrounding yourself with sycophants, taking few responsibilities, and doing what other people tell you to do.” – Thompson

It’s not that easy. But Thompson goes on to detail the tough position you put yourself in if you insult back or refrain from speaking up for yourself:

“The first principle of physical judo is to not resist your opponent. Instead, move with him and redirect his energy. Ignoring or dismissing a question is the same as resisting it.” – Thompson

So how do you deal with the negativity if you can’t insult back and you can’t just pretend it didn’t happen?

You need to start using “Strip Phrases:”

“Strip phrases are a deflector that strips the insult of its power.” – Thompson

Here’s a list of the strip phrases you can use when someone insults you:

  • ‘Preciate that
  • oyess
  • understan’ that sir

Each strip phrase allows you to retain some self-worth while verbally acknowledging the insult, deflecting it with a strip phrase, then discussing what you actually want from the person.

Here’s an example of how you could use one of the strip phrases:

Let’s say you’re having a hard time talking to an irate customer. They are insulting you and being generally rude. Instead of insulting them back or treating them harshly, take the blow. But deflect the internal damage by stripping the phrase you send back at them.

“‘preciate that sir, but all customers are required to bring in 2 forms of identification before we are able to process their paperwork.”

See what you did there? You took the insult and stripped back your response to overcome the insult.

“That’s how ancient samurai warriors viewed their battles. They lived for them. They were trained to see warfare as a joy and conflict, as a sign that they were drawing more energy.” – Thompson

If you get good at this tactic, you’ll move your head when the spear of insult is being flung at you. I believe the Notorious B.I.G. put it best in the song “Hypnotize”:

Never lose, never choose to, bruise crews who
Do something to us, talk go through us

I hope you enjoyed these last 5 posts on the book “Verbal Judo.” If you have any questions about the past 5 blog posts or want to discuss the book further please email me.

Have a great week!

You need to develop increasingly sensitive radar to know how you’re coming across while you’re performing.

Here’s the fourth post of 5 that I’m doing on the book “Verbal Judo – The Gentle Art of Persuasion” by George J. Thompson, Ph.D.

Right out of high school I started a few rock bands. We were very fortunate to have started right after Napster broke, but before digital downloads and streaming music killed the industry that would support live local acts.

In preparing for shows I’d mime the performance in front of a mirror, plan out my show attire, run through the entire set at least 3 times, and make sure all of my gear was ready and in good working order.

The goal of any performer is to constantly be aware of how you are coming across. You have to constantly stay open to the feedback from the audience. You are constantly checking your expectations of the reactions you will get against the actual reactions you are getting from the audience. Then you internalize your findings and regroup.

Today I wanted to apply that mentality to the art of performing in business. In this post I wanted to highlight Thompson’s take on being aware of yourself while you’re performing.

“A mediocre idea brilliantly presented often gains acceptance, whereas a brilliant idea badly presented often dies in birth. Your success with your children, your spouse, your employees, and the public hinges on how you come across.” – Thompson

Are you aware of how you are coming across? Why do you think dance studios have a mirrored wall? Why did Travis Bickle stare himself down in his apartment mirror in the film “Taxi Driver?” We all want to see how we are seen by others. If you forget this, you will be sending out the wrong messages.

“Whether you’re speaking to a roomful of citizens, a city council of eight, or just one disgruntled customer, you are onstage. You are playing a role before others, and you should be aware of the dynamics of each situation. For example, when I teach I often suddenly pull a camera out of my bag and point it at the students. Immediately the room changes. Everything becomes still and silent, and then there’s some nervous giggling, people looking down, others warily looking at the camera, wondering what I’m doing with it. Think of yourself as that camera. As you enter a scene, it changes. You can make two assumptions right off the bat. First, people will always see differently than you. I don’t care whether you’ve been married two or twenty years, your spouse does not think the way you do. The moment you begin to believe that he or she does, you’re headed for problems. Never assume people are going to agree with you 100 percent.” – Thompson

And now an extra pep talk on preparing for speeches:

“How he sees himself, remember, is not as important as how he’s seen. If an audience thinks you’re boring, you are. If an audience thinks you don’t know what you’re talking about, you don’t. You’ve got a problem. You’ve failed to perform in such a way as to get their attention. More than likely you failed to analyze in advance who those people really are, what they might think, what they might anticipate, what their objections might be. If you had, then as you entered the scene your walk and your voice would have appropriately matched their needs.” – Thompson

I hope this helps you stay tuned to how you are coming across in professional settings. Got any questions about keeping your social radar attuned? Email me!


Talk differently to everyone

Here’s the third post of 5 that I’m doing on the book “Verbal Judo – The Gentle Art of Persuasion” by George J. Thompson, Ph.D.

About 5 years ago, I had a performance evaluation. I was killing it with new and interesting projects and I went into the meeting smug and happy with myself. My boss gave me a good evaluation then asked if I had any questions for her.

Sitting on cloud nine I flipped the question back to her and asked her if there was any constructive feedback she could give me. Without missing a beat she said something that I did not understand for years. It only made sense after I read “Verbal Judo.”

5 years ago, my boss tilted her head, thought about it, then told me, “David, you can’t treat everyone the same.” I asked for clarification and she said, “You need to figure out how people want to be treated. You need to treat people differently.”

I still didn’t get it. I sat on the feedback for years. After reading “Verbal Judo,” now I get it.

“Treat everyone the same (with REspect and dignity), but don’t talk to everyone the same way. You don’t talk to each of your children the same way, do you? Since each responds differently, based on his or her makeup and character, you instinctively learn to communicate uniquely to each one.” – Thompson

Thompson goes on to clarify that you must know your audience:

“Knowing one’s audience and communicating in his language is one of the greatest skills there is.” – Thompson

And he finally nails the point with the following quote:

“If you’re having trouble communicating with those from different walks of life, it may be because you’re thinking about yourself instead of about them. If you allow your ego to get in the way, you will find yourself using your own language instead of the other person’s.” – Thompson

Are you having trouble communicating with people? Perhaps you should stop making it about you. Focus on the other person. Learn them. Then speak to them according to the ways you have learned they appreciate being spoken to.

Did this post help you? Email me if you have any questions!

Miscommunication is the sand in the gears of modern technology

Here’s the second post of 5 that I’m doing on the book “Verbal Judo – The Gentle Art of Persuasion” by George J. Thompson, Ph.D.

I’m a very visual learner. I like to watch videos on Youtube to learn more about computers, pop psychology, and ant hills. Wait what? Anthills? Hear me out, I promise to get to it by the end of the post.

Working in a modern setting, we have to deal with constituents from all over the place. In order to get anything done these days, you need to rely on a team of people. Nothing meaningful can be accomplished by one person. That’s why we need to communicate so much.

But why doesn’t a single email or a single phone call cut it these days? I’ll tell you why. The channels of communication are so overwhelmed that we need to over-communicate our message to get results – making sure nothing slips through the cracks, letting our colleagues know when, why, and how we need their feedback.

Ken Makovsky gets the point across well:

“Just because you understand something doesn’t necessarily mean everyone else does. So it may bear repeating if, after asking if everyone understood it, someone says “no.” Sometimes people are too shy to admit they don’t understand, so repeating a message is the conservative thing to do. Further, I find that as important as I may think my message is, the minds of the so-called listeners may be wandering. Or the listener may be more focused on his or her retort than taking in what is being spoken” – Ken Makovsky, Forbes

Modern Technology by its nature requires a suspension of disbelief. Why? It’s impossible to know all the deep reasons behind some of the processes we use. We need to rely on the people around us to understand exactly what we are asking for, even if we are using less than ideal words. How do we deal with this? We need to over-communicate.

“We all make mistakes everyday, but listening, empathizing, asking, paraphrasing, and summarizing can go a long way in making you more effective.” – Thompson

And finally, anthills… I told you I’d get back to it.

Whenever I think of over-communication now, I think of anthills. Why? Watch this video with Jesse Schell talking about running a game development studio. He does a great job explaining how ants communicate in their colonies to make sure everything gets done to budget, in a timely manner, and correctly. Check out the following video at 3 minutes and 50 seconds in. “Ants don’t have meetings!”

Got problems? Over-communicate your needs!

How do you over-communicate with your team? Got any horror stories of what happens when you don’t over-communicate? Email me!