Welcome Stranger

"Welcome stranger" by Greg Alder

The doorbell rings. If you’re expecting friends, you open the door ready to welcome them in. If you’re not expecting anyone, you’re apprehensive. Is it someone selling something you don’t want? Is it someone who poses a physical threat?

If you do open the door to a stranger, your defences are up. You’re ready to say no, ready to close the door.

Every idea is a knock on the door. If the idea is expected and familiar, it will be immediately welcome. It will be embraced.

The problem is that if an idea is expected, it isn’t an innovation. Someone else has had this same idea. Maybe dressed slightly differently, but basically the same. You’ve seen it before. And that’s what makes it feel so comfortable.

Unexpected ideas have a tough time of it. We humans are creatures of habit. We’re naturally resistant to change. Our brains are wired negatively, ready to find fault and identify trouble.

Standing face to face with a new idea, we want the impossible. We want it to be somehow familiar. When we’re presented with something ground breaking, one of the first questions we’ll ask is “Will it work?”.

We want proof, but proof only exists with established things. There can be no proof with something original.

I used to work in marketing research. I learnt that research is good for finding out how people think about existing things – a political party or a deodorant. I also learnt that research is useless for gauging response to innovations. That’s because the only way we can understand something new is by comparing it or likening it to something we know well.

A true innovation idea has no reference point. It isn’t like something we’ve seen before. We don’t know what to make of it, so we stick with what we know.

Next time you’re presented with an original idea, fight the urge to shut the door. Resist asking “Will it work?”, “Do you have proof?” and other idea-killers.

Conversely, if you’re presenting a big idea, plan your pitch. Anticipate resistance. Acknowledge negativity. Find analogies from history, from other industries.

Original ideas – and the innovations that develop from them – are strangers at the door.

Make them welcome.

If you don’t, someone else will – and they’ll get the credit.

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