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It’s not enough to have ideas. You have to sell them.

“Actually, it doesn’t matter one bit to me whether you’re any good at design,” says Seth Godin. “The odds are you probably are very good. It doesn’t matter. What matters is whether you can sell designs to your clients.”

In a recent editorial for Before & After design blog, Godin went on to say: “…For too long, people who are passionate about design have accepted their lot. It’s completely acceptable for designers to grumble about lousy clients. We apologize for our work, saying, ‘Well, it’s the best the client would let me do.’ You should be ashamed to say stuff like this. Great design is not a luxury, and a compliant (even enthusiastic) client should not be a rarity.”

Godin’s comments back the truth that good ideas simply do not sell themselves. In fact, the better and bolder the ideas, the more they need selling. Because we’re asking decision makers to let go of old and familiar ideas to grab fresh and different ideas. And, as Godin points out, that takes selling. Tons of selling.

In my book IdeaSelling (which Seth kindly endorsed)I quote him saying this: “There’s no correlation between how good your idea is and how likely your organization will be to embrace it. None. It’s not about good ideas. It’s about selling those ideas and making them happen. If you’re failing to get things done, it’s not because your ideas suck. It’s because you don’t know how to sell them.”

How about you and your team? Are you effectively presenting your designs? Here are three steps to boost idea-selling ratios.

1. Review five designs turned down by bosses or clients. Were the rejections justified because of faulty design? Or were problems with the pitches? If it’s the latter, decide ways you could have improved the presentations.

2. For your next project, try including decision makers in the creative process – right from the beginning. Involve them in exploration and discovery. Bring them in on brainstorms. Get their feedback on rough prototypes. You’ll better understand their objectives. They’ll better understand your creative decisions. And they’ll have a sense of ownership in the idea. Consequently, they’ll be less likely to blast your solutions at the final presentation.

3. For the remaining seven months in 2011, establish a specific action plan for polishing your presentation skills. Read a few books. Schedule in-house training for your team. Take a public-speaking class. Solicit tips from successful sales people in your family and circle of friends.

Thanks to Greg Waddell, Benchworks creative director, for passing along the Seth Godin editorial. To read in its entirety:http://www.mcwade.com/DesignTalk/

Sam Harrison will speak on “Selling Idea to Internal Clients and Bosses” at the inHOWse Managers Conference on June 26. Sam Harrison is a speaker, workshop leader and writer on creativity-related topics. His latest book, IdeaSelling: Successfully pitch your creative ideas to bosses, clients and other decision makers, was released by HOW Books last fall. He is also the author of IdeaSpotting: How to find your next great idea, and Zing!: Five steps and 101 tips for creativity on command. Find him at http://www.zingzone.com

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The Speakers Speak is a series of insightful interviews with the 2011 InHOWse Conference presenters. This week Sam Harrison, speaker, writer and thought leader, addresses an in-house team’s greatest challenge and greatest opportunity – creativity. His grasp of the challenges that creatives face when working in the corporate environment coupled with his ability to distill strategies and tactics that are an antidote to this existential issue are invaluable any designer trying to make a difference where they work.

I know you’ve worked with a number of in-house creatives as a mentor and advisor. From your perspective, what are some of the biggest challenges faced by designers working in corporations today?

Most in-house creatives participating in my workshop have some of the same problems I had back when directing a large in-house group. Value recognition, project workflow and internal bureaucracy are timeless and universal challenges for in-house designers.

Two other major in-house challenges I’m often asked to help with are creative stagnation and pitching skills.

Why do you think these two areas are particularly challenging for in-house designers?

In-house creatives are often dealing with the same brand, the same people and the same products. So they tend to have a greater likelihood of stagnation than agency people who might be interfacing with a variety of brands, clients and products. In-house designers need to constantly seek out and draw in fresh inspiration.

As for presentation skills, the selling of ideas within a company is frequently hampered by what I call the Tyranny of Low Expectations.

These low expectations exist on both sides of the table. In-house clients often have low expectations of their creative services group, wrongly assuming that in-house people are incapable of having fresh perspectives. And in-house creatives often have low expectations of internal clients – assuming Joe down the hall and Susan in the c-suite will forever have the same negative reactions they’ve previously had to new ideas.

How about the biggest opportunities they may not be taking advantage of?

In-house groups have the opportunity to turn a potential liability – constantly working with the same company, brand, products and clients – into a powerful asset.

After all, when competing with agencies, in-house groups have the home-team advantage. No agency will ever know the brand, culture, products and people as well as in-house designers. But to capitalize on this insider advantage, in-house designers must embrace a beginner’s attitude.

Keep learning. Arrive every day wearing a new pair of glasses. Find out all there is to know about end-users. Plunge into the marketplace. Talk and travel with product managers and sales people. Understand the company’s financials. Know the industry inside and out.

When in-house designers blend deep-and-wide knowledge with creative inspiration, no agency can touch them. These knowledgeable, involved in-house team members are seen as partners and advisers, not order takers and firefighters. They provide strategic, creative and focused solutions, making them invaluable to internal clients.

Whenever creative people quit expanding, they become expendable. But when in-house designers keep expanding knowledge and solutions, they become indispensible to the organization.

If there is one piece of advice you’d give to an in-house designer, what would it be?

Don’t always wait around for approvals to go into creative action. Instead, be willing to take risks and surge ahead. As Seth Godin says: don’t wait for authority, assume responsibility.

Because of rigid corporate structures, in-house designers often wait to be given authority to move in new directions or take on out-of-ordinary projects. While waiting, these designers can become stagnant and frustrated.

Instead, assume responsibility. Take calculated risks. Here’s a quick example. I presented a series of creativity workshops at the headquarters of a Fortune 500 firm. The facilities were beautiful but sterile. After my sessions, the design director invited me to his group’s workspace. What a refreshing difference! It was colorful and exciting – an inviting departure from the rest of the building.

The company had strict rules against veering from decorating standards at the headquarters. But a couple of years ago, this design director decided to take risks and responsibility rather than wait around for approvals and authority. He began making small, incremental changes in his area – painting a wall over here, adding artwork over there. Before long, the space was transformed into an energetic, inspiring environment. And wouldn’t you know it — his area is now the first place the CEO and other executives head when touring visitors through the building.

What books, conferences, blogs and periodicals would you recommend to the innie community?

I speak at lots of conferences, and the HOW and inHOWse conferences are without doubt my favorites. You can reach out and touch the creative energy – and the real-world content is smart and abundant.

I’m also an enthusiastic advocate of resources like the inHOWse blog, InSource website, “The Corporate Creative,” “Orbiting the Giant Hairball” and the other usual suspects for in-house people – all wonderful and worthy.

But it’s important for designers to reach beyond these in-house resources – and beyond design resources – to earn legitimacy as a partner and adviser to internal clients.

Read Business Week, Harvard Business Review and Wall Street Journal to understand business and talk its language. Read trade magazines and industry blogs to obtain in-depth knowledge of the marketplace. Read publications read by end users and watch the TV shows they watch to better understand their interests and lifestyles.

Could you give us a hint about what you’ll be presenting at the InHOWse Conference?

My content is summed up in the title: “Selling Ideas to Internal Clients and Bosses.” Designers and other creative folks often believe good ideas sell themselves, but that rarely happens. In fact, the fresher and bolder the idea, the more it needs selling, because we’re asking people to let go of the status quo and assume risks.

In a recent inHOWse blog post, you referenced the IBM survey showing that 1500 CEOs ranked creativity as the number one leadership attribute. That’s great news. But unless designers are able to communicate and sell their creative concepts, management will never recognize the power of the ideas.

Because in-house creatives are usually pitching to familiar faces in familiar environments, they sometimes get a bit lax with presentation skills. My session will focus on ways in-house managers and their teams can polish idea-pitching skills and improve idea-selling ratios for themselves and their teams.

Sam Harrison is a speaker, workshop leader and writer on creativity-related topics. His latest book, IdeaSelling: Successfully pitch your creative ideas to bosses, clients and other decision makers, was recently released by HOW Books. He is also the author of IdeaSpotting: How to find your next great idea, and Zing!: Five steps and 101 tips for creativity on command.

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Is your creativity stuck on the OK Plateau?

by Sam Harrison

In a recent New York Times piece, writer Joshua Foer mentions the OK Plateau, that place where we feel we’re as good as we need to be for a particular task or skill – where we’re basically running on autopilot.

The OK Plateau is the enemy of soaring imagination and top performance. It tells us what we’re doing is sufficient, which, of course, heads straight down the road to sameness.

Have you or your team reached the OK Plateau when it comes to creativity? Do you find yourself operating on autopilot, relying on the same sources, techniques and processes?

If so, grab manual controls and rise above the OK Plateau.

Get off the beaten path. Reorganize teams. Switch around projects. Change workflow. Swap artwork. Rearrange furniture. Revamp creative networks. Introduce new brainstorming tools. Shake things up.

Open the doors. Take field trips to museums, galleries and retailers.  Screen documentaries on artists, architects and inventors. Order recent books. Visit unusual blogs. Listen to different music. Eat at unfamiliar restaurants. Bring in inspiring speakers. Get off the beaten path.

Beg for the feedback. Ask co-workers and clients how you’re doing. Solicit advice from trusted vendors. Tour other firms and agencies. Give past projects honest self-evaluations. Act on what you learn.

Sam Harrison is a speaker, workshop leader and writer on creativity-related topics. His latest book, IdeaSelling: Successfully pitch your creative ideas to bosses, clients and other decision makers, was recently released by HOW Books. He is also the author of IdeaSpotting: How to find your next great idea, and Zing!: Five steps and 101 tips for creativity on command. Find him at http://www.zingzone.com

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Keep Fishing

by Sam Harrison

I once heard author Ian Fraser tell of being on a fishing trip with fellow writers Mark Singer and John McPhee.

“It was a cold, rainy day, and we weren’t catching anything,” said Fraser. “After a few hours, Singer said, ‘You know, this is masochism.’ And McPhee laughed and said, ‘No, this is optimism.’”

I love Fraser’s story because it applies to the creative process.

Sometimes our luck seems to be running out when it comes to snagging a few fresh ideas. Or maybe we have ideas, but clients keep tossing them overboard.

In those sad times, it’s easy to feel a bit sorry for ourselves. To feel the world is against us. To feel we’re stuck in a masochistic business.

But if we let ourselves go there, we get bitter. And if we get bitter, we don’t get better. Instead, we become victims. And victims, by definition, are powerless.

“You have to believe in what you’re doing and not get bitter,” says Jakob Trollback, founder and creative director of Trollback + Company. “If you let it harden you, you’re going to just get old and dull.”

So the next time you find yourself planning a pity party, seek out some optimism. Take a break. Go for a walk. Visit an upbeat blog. Talk to a positive friend. Launch a new project. Start your day over.

You’ve done it before and you can do it again. Ideas are swimming around in your mind and in the world around you. You can catch them. And you can sell them.

Keep fishing.

Sam Harrison is a speaker, workshop leader and writer on creativity-related topics. His latest book, IdeaSelling: Successfully pitch your creative ideas to bosses, clients and other decision makers, was released in May by HOW Books. He is also the author of IdeaSpotting: How to find your next great idea, and Zing!: Five steps and 101 tips for creativity on command.

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If inspiration isn’t moving you, maybe you’re not moving around.

By Sam Harrison

Rodney Smith is famous for his captivating black-and-white images. The New York City photographer says that before shooting any assignment, he slowly moves around his subject, searching for an emotional connection. He wants to see the model or still life in a unique, visceral way.

The practice of moving around – searching for emotional connections – fuels everyday creativity. As an in-house creative, are you moving about your organization, searching for insights and emotional connections? Are you seeking to see employees, customers and managers in fresh ways and look at life through their eyes?

Here are three ways to wander and watch for creativity’s sake:

1. Look beyond usual frames of reference. Step outside boundaries imposed by your circle of friends, co-workers and suppliers. Visit other departments. Have lunch with different crowds. Spend time with new vendors.

2.  Travel the highways. In my workshops and books, I urge people to see more creatively by traveling down blue highways and lonesome highways.

Blue highways are the smaller, less-traveled roads traditionally shown in blue ink on printed maps. Travel blue highways in your world to shake up scenery. Take new roads to work, enter at a building’s loading dock, detour down different hallways. Set yourself up to see unusual things.

Lonesome highways are those room-for-one routes we need to travel from time to time. Because we tend to notice small details when traveling without the distraction of others, whether it’s a business trip, weekend getaway or hour at the neighborhood coffee shop. In those moments of solitude, follow Staislavski’a acting method of “looking with penetration” and record observations in your notebook.

3. See through other eyes. When people-watching, pay attention to facial expressions. Ponder what the owners of those faces are seeing and thinking. Show your work to people outside your team and ask for honest reporting on what they see before them. Imagine working in other departments and think about how you would view the organization and its products if you saw things through their lens. Pretend you are a manager, c-suite executive, customer – and view their challenges, values and day-to-day roles.  Look from different angles to find emotional connections.

If we are awake, says Natalie Goldberg, the whole world is shimmering and giving us insights. Wake up your eyes and watch the world around you provide idea-sparking resources.

Sam Harrison is a speaker, workshop leader and writer on creativity-related topics. His latest book, IdeaSelling: Successfully pitch your creative ideas to bosses, clients and other decision makers, was recently released by HOW Books. He is also the author of IdeaSpotting: How to find your next great idea, and Zing!: Five steps and 101 tips for creativity on command.

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To be a lot happier at work, be a little deaf.

by Sam Harrison

At the recent Women’s Conference in California, Ruth Bader Ginsburg recalled a piece of advice she received on her wedding day.

“Sometimes in a marriage you need to be a little deaf,” Ginsburg’s mother-in-law told her.

Sage words. Because healthy relationships rely on acceptance and tolerance, including the ability to sometimes ignore curt, careless and confounding remarks.

This advice also applies to in-house situations. Most firms have a cacophony of negative, meaningless messages forever bouncing off walls. And if you absorb everything said, you’ll soon be gnawing on tires in the parking lot.

So be a little deaf at work.

Be a little deaf to gossip. Does your organization have a cast of finger-pointers, rubber-neckers and pity-partiers? If so, shield your ears when in their presence or creative energy will be sucked right out of you.

Be a little deaf to bureaucratic blather. Procedures. Rules. Regulations. Bureaucracy’s triple threat. As Gordon Mackenzie famously advised, in-house creatives need to orbit bureaucracy’s giant hairball. Use its resources, but don’t dare get trapped inside. Politely tune out all those color-inside-the-lines fanatics. Instead, hunt for people who calmly and efficiently work the system. Listen and learn from them.

Be a little deaf to criticism. Know who not to listen to when presenting your ideas. The devil advocates. The nit-pickers. The we-don’t-do-it-that-way-here crowd. Turn deaf ears to naysayers and turf-protectors. Tune in to words that can better your work.

Sam Harrison is a speaker, workshop leader and writer on creativity-related topics. His latest book, IdeaSelling: Successfully pitch your creative ideas to bosses, clients and other decision makers, was recently released by HOW Books. He is also the author of IdeaSpotting: How to find your next great idea, and Zing!: Five steps and 101 tips for creativity on command.  Reach him at http://www.zingzone.com

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To win more pitches, help clients deal with risks.

by Sam Harrison

“No one ever got fired for buying IBM.”

That was once the mantra of IT departments everywhere. Purchasing agents knew they could reduce their risks by going with IBM’s steady, proven products.

Of course, this practice resulted in years of boring computers and stale designs. Nevertheless, it provides a lesson for today’s in-house creatives when pitching fresh, exciting ideas.

Each time you present an idea, your internal clients sit across from you weighing risks. If rewards are higher than risks, chances are good for acceptance. If dangers exceed dividends, it’s likely a lost cause.

I’m not suggesting you offer safe, predictable concepts in order to assuage the fears of skittish decision makers. No way. Light up the room with bold, unique concepts.

But when planning your pitch, place yourself in the position of nervous decision makers. Step back and stare at your idea through their eyes. What makes it risky? How can those risks be reduced without watering-down the idea?

By anticipating the fears, uncertainties and doubts of decision makers, you can mold your pitch to shift risk-reward ratios. For example:

You anticipate the decision maker thinking:

“My boss is going to go ballistic over the cost of this idea these designers are showing me…”

So add this risk-reducing statement to your pitch:

“I know the numbers might be a hard sell when you give Brian the anticipated budget for this idea. So we’ve calculated the return on investment the company can expect…”

You anticipate the decision maker thinking:

“I’ll never be able to explain all the details of this idea to the board…”

So add this risk-reducing statement to your pitch:

“By the way, Elizabeth, we’ve create an eight-minute presentation – complete with video overview – for you to take to the board meeting…”

You anticipate the decision maker thinking:

“This idea is going to suck up weeks of my team’s time…”

So add this risk-reducing statement to your pitch:

“I know this looks like an overwhelming project,” William, but we’ll implement in stages and cheaply outsource much of the production work…”

Focus on risk-rewards ratios when preparing pitches, and you’ll better your win-lose ratio. Don’t weaken great ideas to reduce risks for decision makers. Instead, strengthen your presentations.

Sam Harrison is a speaker, workshop leader and writer on creativity-related topics. His latest book, IdeaSelling: Successfully pitch your creative ideas to bosses, clients and other decision makers, was recently released by HOW Books. He is also the author of IdeaSpotting: How to find your next great idea, and Zing!: Five steps and 101 tips for creativity on command.  Reach him at http://www.zingzone.com

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