Richard Purcell

@rfpurcell

How Non-Conformists Rule the World

And sell new ideas to skeptical audiences

Much of modern life is built around conformity. People are hesitant to venture into the unknown. People don’t take time to question why the status quo exists and/or how it could be better. Recently I’ve had feelings of isolation and otherness. Feelings that I could not relate to the people or the world around me because my ideas and my lifestyle were contrary to the status quo. During this time, a former colleague recommended a booked called the “Originals: How Non-Conformists Rule the World”. While reading it, I realized that though being an Original can at times feel lonely, it is the Originals who are the change-makers.

The writer, Adam Grant, states that it’s important for Originals to realize that they are not alone — that there are others who share their ideas and feelings of otherness.

I set out to write a post about my key takeaways from Originals and how it relates to my current job at Hustle, Inc. in the hopes of finding more allies.

De-risking a new idea

I’m responsible for expanding our conversational messaging product into new markets. Institutions have a knee-jerk reaction to say ‘no’ to new ideas and each time our product enters a new market we have to re-tell our story and re-sell our idea.

Reading Originals, I realized that we’re constantly having to overcome a long list of risks in the eyes of each company in a new market.

These risks include a nascent product, a vendor with a less-than-proven track record, an unfamiliar communication channel, new government regulations to consider, unconventional workflows — the list goes on. Now when I think about how to pitch to a company in a new market, I consciously imagine all of the perceived risks and focus on telling a story that very clearly de-risks our new idea.

What’s wrong with the status quo?

Grant writes how the best communicators sell their ideas:

  1. Detail the problems with the status quo
  2. Share how their vision is better
  3. The huge chasm between the two

This theory echoes a piece I recently read titled, “The Greatest Sales Deck I’ve Ever Seen.”

As we developed a new product and pitch deck for CMOs, we made sure to start by highlighting the three key trends in the market that align with the company’s mission, the problems with those trends, how our product is the solution to those problems, and how other solutions have failed.

Make new idea relatable

Often times Originals sell a new idea by framing it as something common — only slightly different.

This is why when many tech co-founders pitch their startups they use phrases like “The Uber of X” or the “The Netflix of Y”.

Pitching a new idea is sometimes like turning on the lights in a dark room — it takes a moment for your eyes to adjust.

“To sell something familiar, you have to make it surprising, but to sell something surprising you have to make it familiar.” — Derek Thompson, Author of “Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction”

To make it easier for a new listener’s minds to adjust to a new idea for our new product, I find myself framing it as something familiar by saying things like “It’s like email marketing for text” or “It’s like mass texting but instead of being powered by a bot its powered by true human to human connection”.

First movers disadvantage

A recent Forbes article states, First movers had a 47% failure rate and companies that took control of a product’s market share after the first movers pioneered them — had only an 8% failure rate. Like early pioneers crossing the American plains, first movers have to create their own wagon trails, but later movers can follow in the ruts.

Being the first one with a new idea is not always an advantage. Some people need to hear a new idea a few times (and in a few different ways) before an idea gains traction.

Uber was the first mover in ride-sharing which meant they had to incur high costs to increase adoption of the new technology and high costs to overcome legal hurdles. The company was also not able to learn from the mistakes of others.

Lyft is able to see numerous advantages of being the second mover which helps them learn from Uber’s mistakes, increase speed of market adoption, reduce costs, and swoop in and say, “We are like Uber but better and friendlier.”

Reading Originals makes me realize the major disadvantages for Hustle being the first peer-to-peer messaging product for sales & marketing. If Hustle was the second mover it would be easier for the company to de-risk the new idea. If Hustle was the second mover, the company could gain market share over the competition by being better, faster, and/or less expensive. Instead, Hustle has to de-risk the new idea PLUS explain a unique color to someone who’s never seen that color before — an operation that is very costly for the company and reduces the speed of finding product market fit.

Put Passion in the Right Place

“Passion for the execution is more important than the passion for the idea”.

Grant annotates that three out of four startups fail because of premature scaling and poor execution.

He cautions against “the overcommitment of pioneers” — meaning that although pioneers are tempted to overextend to seize market share and maximize growth, it can cause miscalculations that eventually lead to the death of an idea. Rather, it may behoove pioneers to “procrastinate” or let an idea marinate before attacking it from a variety of angles and mindsets. This moreover allows for further creativity, greater input from colleagues, and the opportunity to flexibly pivot.

Upon reflection, there were instances over the past 18 months when my team got really excited about the idea to expand into a new market, devised the strategy to expand, but did not show enough passion for the hard work it would take with cross-functional leaders to execute. We ramped up investments and hiring before we had a plan to execute, and our miscalculations had severe negative consequences.

Diversify experiences to spark new ways of thinking

Changing one’s frame of reference helps incubate new ideas.

This can be done by traveling to foreign places or finding other ways to completely take your mind off the idea.

My recent travels to Japan, Brazil, and Western Europe helped spark numerous moments of clarity and epiphanies.

This past summer I shut myself in a dark, small, wet room to refresh my creativity and problem solve.

In conclusion, Non-conformists should know they are not alone and reading Originals will help ideas come to fruition.

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