By Frank J. Rich
Few things inspire us more than ideas. The very thought of an idea changes our facial expression. We grow pensive as we look inward for the elements of its execution and outward for others to join in anticipation of its fruit. “What if” becomes more than the “alternative” thinking in good decision-making; it rises in the air to form the cloud of opportunity that ideas reveal.
Ideas, defined narrowly as “the capacity to create and understand the meaning of creative thought,” are considered to be an essential and defining feature of the human condition. They come to us in a sort of vision or cloud that crystallizes in the mind’s eye and usually in the form of a relative model that is in some way familiar to us, though not completely. Very few would see Mother Teresa and Adolf Hitler as having anything in common. The idea is odious and distasteful. But to Harvard psychologist Kurt Gray, the clarity necessary to understand our view of people, conditions and things, revealed a fundamental distinction in the motivation of people — that is, how we form our image of others.
The suggestion that we classify people as either agents or patients — good or evil, saints or sinners — sets morality as the metric for measuring what is common among us. “Moral agents,” he contends, are “those who act, and are deserving of praise or blame.”
“Moral patients” are the objects or receivers of that praise or blame. We see the former as capable of “deliberate moral action, self-control, and planning,” according to Dr. Gray. Both Mother Teresa and Aldolf Hitler share one side of this fulcrum, though each used their agency differently. “Moral patients” are the victims of the world, the objects of “moral agents.” And though less in control, they tend to be more capable of emotions and emotional experience, Gray’s research suggests.
The strength in ideas, however, may come from deep within. Wherever they originate, ideas are either positioned for development or the boneyard. Which it is may depend more on the personal characteristics of the individual and his experience. While it is true that those with authority speak more cogently on all things — no less ideas — and that those in attendance listen better when an idea comes from the boss or a respected other, ideas are naturally occurring in all of us by the creative nature of the human condition.
What happens to an idea before it’s delivered to promise or purgatory, and why? Simply, we do! And the preparation is what determines its destination.
The quickest, most effective way to advocate ideas is to state one’s case cogently, with supporting data, and with the qualitative view that builds excitement. That said, ideas can be presented quickly and objectified as quickly with simple market analogs and presented with a clear goal in mind.
- Observe (analog), imagine, and execute. Begin with a relative observation that is familiar to most. Then complete the analogy to it using your idea. Close with a simple plan of action that defines results and is measurable.
- Prepare well. Be a step ahead of the alternatives and the questions. Gather your team around the idea and test its appeal on them.
- Know your audience. Know who and how to prepare your audience before presenting your idea. Your confidence rises when you can answer expected questions easily.
- Be direct and a partner. Make your case quickly and clearly, then wait for others to amplify it. Everyone wants to be a party to fresh, winsome ideas.