What happens when the comfort of the old is preferable to the risk of the new? This is the situation all innovators face when presenting their ideas or inventions to a hesitant public: we’re dissatisfied with the way things are now, but we’re not yet willing to embrace the future.
Everywhere you look, you’ll see this wildly contradictory set of desires and feelings toward change. We hate traffic jams, but we refuse to try self-driving cars. We dream of improving the quality and length of our lives, but we’re reluctant to tamper with the genetic triggers of a disease. We want to eliminate global hunger, but we have a bias against genetically modified drought-resistant food.
Why are we so frustrated with our present-day reality yet unwilling to accept the alternatives of the better and the new? Radical innovation comes with a high cost–a price many won’t pay. Innovation goes beyond merely eliminating and replacing old ways of doing things–it also eliminates and replaces traditional ways of seeing the world. It shakes the very foundation of our beliefs.
This is why it’s much easier for innovators to develop an idea or come up with an invention than it is to sell it: people are resistant to any kind of change in their belief systems. So when it comes to gaining support for your innovation, it’s not enough to prove that this development will make things faster and easier. You need to synch up your initiative with the worldviews of those whom it will affect. Here are three strategies for turning innovation skeptics into believers.
Connect cause to effect. We’re all naturally short-term thinkers: paying next month’s rent or meeting this quarter’s numbers is more important to us than what will happen ten years in the future. Appeal to this sense of immediacy when presenting your innovation. Show the world why your idea or invention is necessary today. Consider, for example, the way we value our freedom to drive cars. The results of global warming feel far-off, out-of-sight, and unrelated to our driving habits right now. The cost of switching our lives around to take more environmentally friendly forms of transportation feels too high for most people. But when we connect these issues to things that are more recent, dramatic–even traumatic–in our minds, like the brutal winters on the East Coast and the deadly drought on the West Coast, then suddenly the case for change is a compelling one. Indeed, it’s no coincidence that as these present-day weather extremes persist, the rates of adopting new technologies like hybrid cars are increasing. Relate your innovation to real experiences with concrete effects in the current moment.
Appeal to a higher cause. Small advancements can feel like earth-shattering violations of our norms. While it seems perfectly acceptable to give patients pills in order to get better, the idea of artificially growing a new organ and transplanting it into a person may sound like an outrageous disruption of what it means to administer care. In reality, both of these advancements are innovation interventions. What many don’t see is that what seems normal today–administering medication–was once itself a major challenge to prevailing conventions. Since we’re always bound by our own place in history and the perspective that limits us to, it’s crucial to communicate the greater purpose of an innovation. Instead of giving the standard technical account of a new device or service, highlight how it advances our noble aspirations. Identify the larger mission of your individual innovation.
Provide alternatives in small steps. Radical change is best served in incremental doses. Keep the concept of your innovation revolutionary, but implement it in an evolutionary way. Only a decade ago, it would have been unthinkable to suggest that we would have a globally connected super-computer in our pockets–and that’s basically what smartphones are. Traditional universities are still thriving, but even the most prestigious schools in the country offer online programs. Stadiums and athletic venues remain the center of all professional sporting events, though physical attendance continues to decrease as more and more fans consume games through emerging digital venues. These are all major innovations that many people would be otherwise reluctant to accept. In essence, though, these changes have already happened without much resistance, because they’re happening gradually. Pace your innovations to bring the adopters along in steps.
The goal is to change the minds of people who will actually benefit from your innovation. Be honest and transparent in gaining the consent and acceptance of your non-believers. All of our worldviews could benefit from reflection and reconsideration. That is the power of a truly radical innovation.
We live in a world that favors tradition. The public will always support the old, the established, the conventional. It’s your job as an innovator to be an advocate for the new. Remember that the future is already here even if not everyone is aware of it. The next time any innovation skeptics doubt the possibility of your invention or idea, ask them who flew the last airplane they traveled on. Chances are it was on autopilot.