How to Get Buy-in for Your Brilliant Ideas

17 Dec 2015

Brilliant ideas falter in the halls of business all the time.

It goes something like this: Someone in a meeting utters something off the top of their head. Fellow meeting-goers go silent, stunned by its brilliance. Then the excitement builds—it’s such a good idea, it’s the right thing to do, the right time to do it. Research says it will do this and this and this, in addition to solving an organizational or audience pain point. Great! It’s so great, they go tell the boss about it.

And the idea is never heard from again.

Sound familiar? Sometimes it’s the right call, sometimes it’s a gut reaction. What it really is, is a design problem. It’s the design of buy-in and consensus building, and it’s the lifeline to an idea’s success.

Contrary to what you might think, buy-in is cultivated before any pixel is pushed, or any brain is stormed. Before you pick a color, or write a piece of copy, before you pick a file format or an ad space. Buy-in is the groundwork laid that erases surprises for executives. It’s a collaborative process, and the difference between teams at odds and a well-oiled machine.

Effective use of buy-in means being flexible and giving your audience needs a voice in the process. (It goes both ways too—let your audience know what you’re up to, remember the Gap rebrand or Netflix’s “Qwickster”? Yikes.) It’s also a moving target, informed by fresh rationale culled from your target demos. Today, we call that user-centered design and buy-in is a huge part of it.

Great user-centered ideas usually require changes to established ways of doing things. And change is hard for most. But the irony is change is incredibly rewarding. We see this in agile development processes and reality TV make-overs. The trick is holding someone’s hand through the process. Establishing a culture of change is the new paradigm and once it’s established, ideas become a welcome wellspring of organizational development.

So how can non-profits benefit from this approach?

Well, your beneficiaries have pain points. Your donors have pain points. Your boards have pain points. Identify them. Then talk about them! Then create consensus amongst your groups to erase them. For example, don’t focus on asking for money, make money easier to give. Don’t write fluff-filled communications, give your audience an opportunity to write. Putting your audience first, letting them know they’re first demonstrates their value to the organization and makes decisions easier for leadership. When leadership is comfortable giving users the reigns, ideas aren’t risks, they’re just good for business.

If you’re interested in learning more about design strategy and consensus building, here’s a quick read to set you off in the right direction. It’s co-authored by design hero Tim Brown, of legendary industrial design firm IDEO. He’s a bit more eloquent than me.

Gardiner Rhoderick

Creative Director

When not pushing pixels, Gardiner loves jumping into the nearest swimming hole and pretending he's in a rock band.

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