The fat accomplice and other sneaky ways to sell ideas
In many organisations, innovative ideas have a much better chance of acceptance if they are proposed by (external) consultants rather than (internal) employees. In the course of assorted stints at various companies, I’ve seen several employees frustrated by the rejection of their ideas by management. Chances are this has happened to you at one time or another. In this post I’d like to discuss a few strategies for getting those “way out” ideas off the ground. I’ll leave out the most obvious strategy- which is to attempt to sell the idea yourself. I’m assuming you’ve tried this and it doesn’t work or isn’t going to. OK, so here are a few other things to try:
Invoke the “fat accomplice”: If you are convinced of the value of your idea, you could just do it, much as the popular purveyor of footwear exhorts. Implement the idea or get moving on it without waiting for official sanction. Once the wheels are set in motion, present management with a fait accompli, or “fat accomplice” as my four year old calls it. I quite like the imagery evoked by the aforementioned cross-lingual confusion (or False Friend) – a fat partner in crime who can take the rap if something goes wrong. One caveat though, if you are going to call on a fat accomplice, you’d better be sure your idea is going to work. Else be prepared for consequences.
Sell by proxy: Discuss the idea informally with people who have influence in the organisation. These folks aren’t necessarily managers. They could, for instance, be people who have built up personal credibility through their contribution to the business. Although not managers themselves, they generally have more access to decision makers, and thus might be able to do a better job selling the idea.
Give it away: If you discuss the idea with enough people, someone may appropriate it and sell it as their own. They might have better luck selling it to management. This is a viable option if you don’t mind someone else getting the bouquets (or brickbats) for the outcomes. A common variant of this case is when a manager appropriates the idea as his or her own. Although it is natural to feel a little cheated if the boss takes the credit, you should really be quite pleased. The sneaky strategy has worked – the idea made it through without people being aware of its real origin.
I’ve tried each of the above at various times with varying degrees of success. You’ll need to figure out which is the best one for your particular situation, factoring in things such as work environment, politics and corporate culture. There’s no guarantee that any of them will work for you. The only sure thing is that if you don’t take the responsibility for selling your ideas, they’ll never to get off the ground.