How to Sell Your Idea

Columns From: 3/1/2001 Automotive Design & Production,


No matter what the project or problem may be, it's usually a good idea to get the facts of a matter before tackling it. However, it's not always so easy to identify facts. Sometimes opinions, emotions or hopes are paraded as facts in support of sincere convictions.

How can you protect yourself from falsity, whether inadvertent or deliberate? There are several tests that you can apply to verify the authenticity of facts.

Consistency. If any "facts" seem mutually exclusive, one of them is an imposter. Facts that are true can be unrelated, but they can't be inconsistent. There may be a missing element which, if known would reconcile the facts in question; if they are not, you may safely assume that at least one of your "facts" is incorrect.

Verbal errors. Are you all talking about the same thing? If you have any doubts, try restating the problem or subject, using different words. This will help determine whether everyone concerned means the same thing. Then define all key terms to insure that all parties agree on what they're talking about. Finally, review all qualifying or descriptive terms with a view toward substituting more specific words to sharpen and limit meaning.

Observe errors. "Facts" based on observation can only be as true as the keenness of the observer. Some points to ponder: Is this first-hand observation or hearsay? Were the observations recorded immediately or is there an appreciable time lapse between observing and recording or reporting? Does the reporter have an established reputation for accuracy?

Completeness. A common error is to draw conclusions from too little information. Part of a story is, by definition, a distortion of the story. People with axes to grind will often present only those aspects of a story that support their vested interests. Consequently, any evidence of personal interest should spur you to look further into the facts. It is particularly important that you get all sides of the story.

Tips On Sharpening Your Thinking

Regardless of your specific responsibilities, your ability to think—precisely, thoroughly, originally—represents the most valuable contribution you can make to your organization. There are undoubtedly other men and women who can do what you do, perhaps not quite so well, but well enough to get the job done. But no one can duplicate your thought processes. So anything you can do to improve your ability to think is additional success insurance. Some ways to sharpen your thinking:

Be precise. Most of us think in words, not pictures. But if the words you use are too general, imprecise or altogether wrong, your thinking will necessarily be sloppy. Suppose you say to yourself, "I can't depend on my suppliers." That's a sweeping statement and may not actually be what you mean. You may really be thinking of one particular supplier and one particular instance of undependability. But in your haste or anger you generalize. Result: impaired thinking. To think effectively, you must use precise words.

Be flexible. Rigidity is just as bad as generalizing. Beware of becoming too orderly in your thought processes. In order to think originally, you must be willing to allow your mind to wander, to strike out on its own, to go off on tangents, to play with various possibilities.

Talk it over. Find someone with whom you can exchange views. In effect, you will be thinking out loud, and the opportunity to hear your thoughts sometimes provides new insights. The mere presence of another person tends to make you take a broader look at your approach.

Take your time. Nobody ever had a great idea in a hurry. Creative thinking is hard, demanding work. Ideas have to be critically assessed, reconsidered, modified, refined, tested. It's only human to overrate our own ideas, especially when we are keyed up over a problem. Time permitting, sleep on it, and see if it still looks like a winner in the morning.

If You Want the Truth, Give Off Good Vibes

People are sensitive to whether or not the boss wants to be leveled with. There are ways to ask for an opinion that are as intimidating as the bold statement, "I want your agreement on this."

If by intonation, gesture, or eye contact you create an environment of hostility to candor, forget honesty; you will only hear what you want to hear.

A manager must send out clear signals of being interested in the cons as well as the pros of a proposition. Try prefacing your request with such openings as, "I value your opinion. What do you think of this?" or "This is tricky and I suspect I haven't thought it completely through."

Nonessentials That Sap Energy

Perhaps the fundamental characteristic of an efficient manager is energy, for without it even the best of intentions are thwarted. When you are tired, you cannot think, plan, judge, communicate, delegate, create or do anything else effectively.

While it goes without saying that good health is a necessity, an often overlooked corollary is: Invest your energy in those things that are important to your job and avoid those that aren't.

Among the nonessentials that too many managers allow to drain them are:

Worries over the distant future. It's pointless to worry past a certain date on the calendar, for too many impon-derables may be introduced by the passage of time. From experience, you should have a feel for how far into the future you can look with any realistic hope of altering it. Past that point, forget it.

Regret over the past. There is even less point in dwelling on what has already occurred. You goofed? Well, who hasn't, at one time or another? If you have learned something from your error, it hasn't been committed entirely in vain. Remember the lesson; forget the rest.

Doubt over the present. Not every decision deserves to be arrived at painfully. Many deal with relatively unimportant matters—who should attend a meeting, whom should be copied on a memo, when a good time for vacation should be. Save the agonizing for the few truly big decisions you are called on to make.

Suspicion of others. Some managers, particularly ambitious ones, see plots where they don't exist. As a rule of thumb, it is safe to assume that your subordinates, peers and superiors do not lie awake at night thinking up ways to do you dirt. What you suspect others of doing may be a better index to your own character than to theirs.

Organizing Your Day

If you consider how your workday is spent, in all probability you will find that much of it is devoted to just a few activities; reading, writing or dictating, telephoning and talking to people in person. Because these four major activities usually take place in a haphazard way, valuable time is frequently wasted in looking for things, making the mental switch from one activity to another, backtracking, and so on.

Try organizing your day around these basic duties. Set aside one period of time exclusively for making telephone calls, another for dictating letters and memos, a third for reading, a fourth for personal interviews. Of course, you will have to make allowances for the unexpected, but by segmenting your day you will almost surely get more done with a minimum of conflict.

Another trap that many of us fall into is the temptation to linger over responsibilities that we particularly enjoy while neglecting other, more demanding tasks. One person, for example, may actually like to sign the mail because it requires no great thought, no decision-making ability, no risk taking. But the good time manager reduces the number of routine tasks needing attention and increases the number of tough jobs to be tackled.