Are you the only one who “gets it” at your company?

Do you have a vision for how technology can transform what your company or department does, but no one will listen?  Do you spend your day “evangelizing” the merits of social networking behind the firewall but finding it fall on deaf ears?  Do you find yourself explaining how a wiki works to everyone who emails you the 8meg ppt deck (that you already received 3 times)?  You are not alone.

In our capacity as an innovation team inside a big organization, we end up talking to quite a few individiuals who live and breath this whole Web 2.0 thing, feel it has great import to their business, and yet, can’t get the ball moving.  This article is for you.

How do you win over the naysayers in your company?

There is a great book on storytelling called The Story Factor. In it, the author mentions this concept of mental stories. A story is simple a set of notions, beliefs, concepts, ideas or mental structures you have in place in your mind.  It’s what you believe on a given subject as filtered through your background and experiences.  I find this model to be a great way to think about the disagreements we have with others. A disagreement is simply a conflict of stories.   Because these stories arise from out personal viewpoints, challenging them can be deeply emotional.

Take something simple. Imagine you believe that a site like Facebook would be great for your company to start using to work with partners and customers. You think it will tap into a group of people already there, make work more fun, improve collaboration, and be free to boot. What could be bad about that?  That is your story.

Now you mention this to a co-worker and they bring up concerns about privacy, they ask if people will be spending “too much” time on this kids site, and how you will measure the effectiveness of this program? All they see is risk.  That is their story.

Here is where the problem begins. Most people become so enamored with their story, that they become ineffective in driving change. Oftentimes, what started as a simple mismatch of two stories spirals into personal attacks, ending with the ultimate innovator’s insult – “they don’t get it”. This term attempts to absolve the speaker from any further reasoning. Mark Cuban makes this point well on his blog. My point however, is that it shuts down conversation. It is the easiest way out and I have rarely found the easy way to be the best way. In the words of Thomas Paine:

“What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; ‘Tis dearness only that gives every thing its value, Heaven knows how to set a proper price upon its goods”

How do you win others over?

In my experience, you begin by being open to the possibility that they actually have something to offer to the conversation. A healthy dose of mutual respect will go far. You need to abandon the notion that you are 100% right.  If you don’t there is really no dialouge.  Anytime I bring any idea to another person, the idea is improved upon.   Sure there will be days when you think you have it all figured out, but rest assured, you don’t.

Now that you are open to actually hearing other perspectives; listen. This means paying attention to the other story. Finding the elements of another’s view that diverges from your own and really working to clearly hear the root of that position.  In our above example, you would deeply listen to the concern around wasted time, the fear of private information being disclosed, and the honest query into the ROI of the project.  If you take each issue, one at a time, and talk it through, you will in most cases have a mutual solution.  It can be a set of guidelines on what a site is meant for (and what it is not meant for).  It may be a clear privacy and terms of use policy.  It may be up front metrics and monthly tracking reports on activity.  The point is that respect for the other viewpoint and a bit of flexibility with both sides looking for a creative answer goes a long way.

This seems like a lot of work, do I need to listen to everyone?

Yes and no.  You need to understand where everyone is coming from, but that does not mean you spend all your time equally with each person.  In order to maximize your effectiveness, consider looking at your critics in a few buckets.

The Haters: These people are against you all the way and actively work to stop you.  They are set in their ways and typically argue against big concepts like openess or social networking.  They use broad brushes and rarely spend enough time to really understand your position.  These people are not worth talking to, and certainly not worth keeping up to date on your activities.  Cut your losses.

The Herd: Anything innovative is by definition, not yet mainstream.  Most people are in the mainstream, but don’t take it personal – It’s just a bell curve after all.  This group may not agree, but are most likely just ignoring you.  They have seen one too many fads and are waiting for this new thing to either become real or die.  This is another area where time can be wasted.  Juse keep them up to date (say with a monthly email) and draw them in with successes along the way.  Over time you may just find them joining in – once it is proven of course.

The Wannabes: This is the most important group for making change.  These are the ones that love the things you are doing, almost.  They really want to be a part of making a difference, but they feel your solution is just missing the mark.  You are over the hardest part with this group since they are not arguing in broad terms, so now just need to deal with the finer points of what you are offering (ie.”we really need file versioning, but this is cool”). These are the ones you bring into your discussions on the roadmap, you explain your vision, and you get engaged.

In the end evangelism is a bit like politics – you focus on the swing voters.  It’s about good time managment. The only caveat to this is that in some orgs there are just some people or teams you must have on board for a variety of reasons. Even if they disagree (sometimes violently), you have to engage.

Have you run into any of these people in your company?  How do you get others on board to your plans?  Sound off in comments.




  1. Can't agree more. Exactly what I do and exactly how I handle the different buckets. Bottomline is, we opened up, explained and discussed it with them, we listened to them, we did everything. If still nothing, even with the constant updates to them, we can say later, “I told you so”.

    Especially for the bosses. It is all about metrics, paper, facts, you know the rest. That's the stumbling block for us in this field, we can't just get what they are asking us out of thin air, and if we don't give it, project denied. (Sometimes you will wonder why they hired you in the first place.)

    Oh well. Hehe, still, no giving up for us all ^_^ That is where our expertise and passion lies. We innovate. We present. We defend.

  2. Great post and cannot agree more. The bigger the co. the harder it is to get people to change from the norm. I hate it when people firehose an idea and offer no constructive feedback.

  3. I run into these types of people and I can be these types of people.

    I've done my fair share of evangelizing a variety of things during my time at Oracle, from a team wiki I created (Why can't we build our team web pages in MS Word?) to the consistent uptake of features across financials (my customers don't want that feature) to my current campaign to get more of my colleagues to blog.

    I think one thing I learned is you need to be prepared to be in it for the long term, because you'll see people in The Herd start to move into The Wannabees category when they have had a little time to mull over things. People in big organizations are busy, sometimes people come back to you months after you gave up on them and start to engage you. You need to be prepared to seed ideas and wait for people to come around in their own time.

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