Six Steps To Suspend Disbelief And Win Budget For Innovation

Ways to Suspend DisbeliefI learned a new term this week at the Front End of Innovation Conference in Boston: “suspension of disbelief.” Jim Block, Director of Advanced Development & Technology at Diebold (a security systems innovator of ATM fame), discussed the subject in a talk about how to gain support for innovation initiatives.

The concept originated from Samuel Taylor Coleridge, aesthetic philosopher (a breed I never knew existed), referring to the phenomenon that occurs when people privately suspend their judgment in a situation for the promise of entertainment value. It’s what allows fictitious stories to come to life and is a common concept in the arts. After 20+ years in the financial services industry, it comes as no surprise that these concepts are new for me. That aside, if it weren’t for suspension of disbelief, Superman, Harry Potter and Underdog would have ended up on the cutting room floor.

The value is significant. One of the innovator’s greatest challenges is getting the naysayer to pipe down just long enough to get the idea funded and on its way. “Suspension” could be the answer.

But how can a visualization of the future be communicated effectively in organizations that think of innovation as a risky investment?

The difference comes in the execution of the experience. It needs to seem real. The “realer” it is, the more likely the naysayer will suspend their disbelief. Why? Because people value being entertained.

So what’s an innovator to do?

Here are my tips for suspending disbelief that will help your constituents buy in to your next big idea:

  1. Attract or secure the best creative talent to build the visualization of your new product, service or business model.
  2. Pretend your idea already exists.
  3. Make the concept come to life in pictures and sounds versus words. Do a drawing, make a video or draft a press release from the future (thanks to Jacqueline LeSage Krause for this great idea). Tell the story. But don’t sell!
  4. Make it about the customer, not the product.
  5. Listen to the feedback…carefully.
  6. Repeat.

The naysayers will either be supportive or be quiet. As John Mellencamp would say, “If you are not part of the future, then get out of the way…”

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