Helping your coachee or mentee pitch an original idea

Helping your coachee or mentee pitch an original idea

A common misconception in organisations is that it’s easy to sell a good idea. The reality, as detailed in the book Originals, by Adam Grant, is quite the opposite. Among the misconceptions his and other research identify are that:

  • Good new ideas are generally welcomed. The evidence says the opposite. In one study across manufacturing, service, retail, and non-profit setting, the more frequently employees voiced concerns and ideas upward, the less likely they were to receive raises and promotions over a two-year period.
  • You should look for people, who are friendly and agreeable. In practice, it is disagreeable people, who provide better feedback on original ideas. (Agreeable people have a tendency not to want to upset the status quo. Disagreeable people are more likely to take the idea on board, once they have worked it through and found any flaws.)
  • You should look for support from middle management. In reality, it is people at the top and bottom of organisations, who are more likely to listen to new ideas with an open mind, because they have less to lose. Middle managers most often default to the status quo

So when a coachee or mentee complains that their ideas are not being listened to, here are some ways you can help:


Explore with them how they could put their idea to its most rigorous test, by taking it to people, who are most likely to oppose it and by asking them what’s needed to make it feasible and/or beneficial. Making the conversation with these stakeholders a process of enquiry (comparable to market research) makes it more likely people will listen to and engage with the concept, than if they feel they are being sold to. Help them prepare for these conversations firstly by taking the role of critic themselves and secondly by practising how they will respond positively to criticism, by separating criticism of the idea from criticism of themselves. The ideal accolade from this kind of conversation is that it was “thought-provoking”.


Help them list who else might share their frustration, with a view to building a movement – a loose network of other people, who can provide moral support and engage with their bosses and stakeholders not as lone voices, but as a common interest group. When the same message comes from multiple sources, individuals are less likely to be labelled as troublemakers. Once a decision-maker has heard the same idea a dozen times from different directions, they are much more likely to consider it seriously. Many times, they will find that the idea is not as original as they thought – other people have the same thoughts and are equally frustrated at not being able to gain traction with it.


Discuss with them how to let go of the need to retain personal ownership of the idea, seeing it instead as a gift to the organisation and to colleagues. Ask: “Is it more important to you that this idea gets used, or that you have the kudos?”

Some useful questions include:

  • Who ultimately has the authority to make this decision? What would make them want to break with the status quo?
  • How could you gain permission to demonstrate your idea on a small scale, ideally within your own area of responsibility?
  • Who else cares about this issue and why? What is preventing them from using their voice?
  • How can you turn your idea from a proposed solution to a captivating question? For example: “Why can’t we routinely see every patient within 15 minutes of their appointment time?” “How much waste is really inevitable?” “What would it look like, if we halved the time from order to delivery?” This helps to open up the dialogue to even better solutions. It also protects the idea-holder from being dismissed as obsessive – it’s a lot easier to gain agreement that there is room for improvement than to promote a specific, first-thought solution.
  • What can you and your network do to create a sense of urgency about this issue? A study of hundreds of managers and employees promoting green agendas in their organisations found that the critical factor for success was not whether the issue was seen as a threat or opportunity, but the urgency, with which it needed to be addressed.

© David Clutterbuck, 2016

helping mentee pitch an idea


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