Tuesday, January 29, 2013

U R Not the Boss of Me

Have you ever had a great idea that nobody else thought was great?

Don't feel bad. According to ADVOCACY: Championing Ideas and Influencing Others, by John A. Daly, you are in some pretty impressive company.


Business history is dotted with stories of opportunities lost because people within companies were unsuccessful in pitching their ideas. And those neglected opportunities were consequential. Competitors seized market share that could have been kept and increased if the good idea had been adopted. Take the minivan. Who came up with that idea — Chrysler? No. Ford engineers came up with that idea — they called it the van-wagon — but they couldn't convince management that customers would buy it. In fact, one executive who endorsed it, Hal Sperlich, was fired and went on to lead the effort at Chrysler, which then dominated the minivan world for many years. Ford lost out.


Companies unreceptive to advocacy efforts often discover that their brightest “idea people” leave in search of more hospitable homes elsewhere. Some of today's most successful companies were created by individuals who were unable to convince movers and shakers within their former organizations of the merits of their ideas.

Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, started his career as a franchisee in the Ben Franklin chain of stores. Walton tried to convince the Ben Franklin executives that his model of buying directly from manufacturers and offering deep discounts would lead to incredible opportunities. They didn't listen, Walton implemented the idea himself, and Walmart became an international phenomenon.

Steve Wozniak, a co-founder of Apple Computers, was working at Hewlett Packard when he and Steve Jobs designed their first personal computer. Wozniak had signed a document at HP saying that whatever he designed as an employee belonged to HP. He said, “I loved [HP]. That was my company for life. So I approached HP .... Boy, did I make a pitch. I wanted them to do it. I had the Apple I, and I had a description of what the Apple II could do. I spoke of color. I described an $800 machine that ran BASIC (an early computer language), came out of the box fully built and talked to your home TV: And Hewlett-Packard found some reasons it couldn't be a Hewlett-Packard product.”

At first reading, you might think that the real issue in these cases is not advocacy but rather the unwillingness of companies to listen to gifted employees. You would be right. These organizations weren't attentive enough, and brilliant individuals jumped ship in search of more receptive audiences.

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Truth is...what matters is not whether someone higher up the corporate ladder believes in you, but whether YOU believe in you.

1 comment:

  1. The dude who came up with Google Wave (fantastic) left Google when that failed to take off and went to Facebook, where he developed the Facebook Graph Search.

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