The Role of Advocacy in Making Innovation Happen

Dragons Den

How do you successfully pitch ideas to this lot?

How many potentially successful business ventures fail to obtain the funding needed based on the way the idea is pitched? And how many employees with bright ideas to improve their organisation’s business have their ideas rejected because they did not get the pitch right when presenting the idea to management?

Artful advocacy can be applied to many professional practices, as most professionals find themselves in situations where they have to argue their case to an audience of decision makers, whether it is in interviews, pitching to a client or leading a team of people. However, there is one area of making innovation happen where the art of advocacy can really make a difference – i.e. when seeking investment to get a new idea/product/service off the ground. It applies whether the innovator is an entrepreneur seeking investment from venture capitalists or an employee seeking permission to pursue an idea from internal decision makers.

The advocate in a court of law needs to prepare their argument, learn the facts of the case of by heart and understand the (legal) context in which the facts are being presented. They need to research previous case decisions that apply. This can be a useful process for advocates presenting a new idea/invention/innovation to decision makers who will decide whether to invest. The advocate in this case should prepare their argument with the facts, exploring both the strengths and weaknesses of their idea and be prepared to discuss these. They should understand the context in which the idea is being pitched, i.e. the potential market, how it fits the vision/strategy of the organisation/investor and research previous projects/ideas that the organisation/investor has invested in as well as the background and outcomes of these.

The scenario for pitching for funding shares similarities with a court room.

  • One or more ‘judges’ who will make final judgement based on the facts presented
  • A limited time in which to make your case.
  • Dreams and wishes will not do, the investor, like the judge, is looking for facts.
  • You are not the only one competing for the decision maker to “rule” in your favour. Others are arguing their case for investment too, and in a world of limited funding you need to make a stronger case than the competition.

Similar context may also apply for employees of an organisation who seeks permission from decision makers to pursue a new idea they believe could be beneficial for the organisation. The success of an idea will so often come down to the skill of its advocate, yet many inventors and innovators are not skilled in the art of advocacy.

The advocate needs to be practiced in their case, be able to recite facts on request and be prepared to answer difficult questions. They need to be aware of their body language,
appearance and how they are perceived by their audience. But above all they need to get the right mix between being confident and honest. The audience need to feel they can trust the advocate. They need to feel able to believe in the messenger before they will believe in the message.

So can entrepreneurs and would be innovators learn from the advocacy used in law when it comes to presenting their ideas? Making the case for a new idea, especially one that is ground breaking, is difficult. E.g. imagine explaining to potential investors that a service that let users publicly broadcast short updates of 140 characters, and allows people to follow complete strangers and users can choose to remain anonymous. How do you convince investors to take a punt on an idea that sounds farfetched and for which it may not be obvious where your revenue will come from? Twitter is of course one of the most successful social media companies today, but was it an easy sell when it was just starting out?

Today anyone can invent the next big thing. You don’t need to be a big company to create big step change. The difference between getting your idea to market and not is often getting investment. The difference between a successful start-up and a flop is so often how well you perform in that dragons den situation. Entrepreneurs and innovators seeking success for their idea would do well to learn the art of the advocate in the way they prepare and present their case to the investor/decision maker. Like those stepping in to the Dragons’ Den, anyone seeking investment in their idea, needs to present a confident and convincing case based on facts. Often the biggest barrier to making innovation happen is that the advocate defending the innovation is not able to play their role well.

Innovators would do well to learn the art of the advocate.

Building Better Roads

Sfalassa BridgeAs my Twitter followers will know, I’ve been traveling through Sicily, returning to some places for the first time in a decade. One change that really stands out over this period is the investment in the road system. A great new network of tunnels, bridges and motorways has spread out across the island from Palermo, making it quicker and safer to get from place to place.

One can only wonder at the cost of these engineering feats. Most were completed before 2008. Alas, I fear that solving our everyday travel problems with such large infrastructure solutions will not be possible in the austerity-ridden Europe of 2012.

Which got me thinking, as I glided across another beautiful new bridge: how will Europe be able to solve its future problems in our new, more constrained world? What do these Sicilian motorists need to do to continue to ensure economic growth on their island?

One answer is challenge assumptions about how things are done. New economic realities mean that many of these assumptions are out-dated.

However, most people have yet to realise this. Clearly, just telling people that they’ve living in the past is not a good idea.

So what to do? One option is to help people to think more creatively about what can be done if we simply challenge the old ways of doing things. Now, this is easier send than done. Our assumptions about how things are done are often deep-rooted. They are rarely talked about because, well, they simply describe how things have been done for a long time.

Build a bridge to cross a valley, use the car to get to work, use established forms of labour to earn a living. Challenging such assumptions can be difficult.

But I think that people are more likely to challenge such assumptions if they can glimpse a more positive future. Empowering people to think creatively in order to generate and own that future can overcome natural reticence to change.

There is an important role for creative facilitators here. Europe, more than ever, needs our skills in order to challenge out-dated assumptions in creative ways. The stakes are high. And the time is now.