How Aristotle Can Help You Sell Better

March 10, 2011

[This article originally appeared on the American Express Open Forum]

I was recently in the market for a new car. I had narrowed down my list of prospects and went out for some test drives. At the car dealerships, each sales person immediately jumped enthusiastically into sharing the features and functions of the cars. “It has cruise control, alloy wheels, and a cup holder.” Exciting. Interestingly, the same thing happened when I was looking to purchase some software. The sales person recited a well-rehearsed script. “Our software will allow you to keep a record of every customer.” My reaction: “Um, and so can all your competitors.” In both cases, I was uninspired and unmotivated to buy.

This got me thinking about the selling process.

Your ability to sell is fundamental to your success. Maybe you want customers to buy a product or service that you offer. Or maybe, as a leader in an organization, you might want your employees to embrace the latest management technique to help spur innovation.

Regardless of what you are selling, from my experience, most people sell incorrectly.

When you focus your selling strategy on features and functions, it positions you as a commodity. It is well-known that people buy more often for emotional rather than logical reasons. So why are you starting the sales process with logic?

A more effective way to sell involves a simple three-step process: ethos, pathos, and then logos. Just in case your Greek is a little rusty, ethos, pathos, and logos are the three corners of Aristotle’s “Rhetorical Triangle” – the use of language to persuade. Ethos is credibility, pathos is empathy, and logos is logic.

Selling your ideas using this construction, in that order, leads to more persuasive arguments.

Read the rest of this article on the American Express OPEN Forum

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Your Brain Is Killing Innovation

March 8, 2011

[This article originally appeared on the American Express Open Forum]

Humans are the only species that can develop creative ideas. Our evolved brain is our best ally in the search for novel solutions.

Unfortunately, the human brain is also the greatest enemy of innovation. But not necessarily for the reason you might believe.

We read a lot about “yeah, buts” killing innovation. That is, people finding all of the reasons why a new idea won’t work. Although this might stop a good idea from coming to fruition, the only cost is opportunity cost; no real money or time is invested after the initial ideation.

The more troubling human phenomenon, as it relates to innovation, is the “wow, this is a great idea” response.

Of course the idea might indeed be great. But when you get attached to an idea, “confirmation bias” kicks in. This is when your brain looks for evidence to support your beliefs, to the exclusion of everything else.

For example, you have an idea for a new product. You gather data. You do research. You develop spreadsheets. And in the end, all of your evidence convinces you that you have a winner.

But do you? Maybe not…

Read the rest of this article on the American Express OPEN Forum

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My Interview on IdeaConnection

March 6, 2011

Vern Burkhardt is one of the best interviewers in the innovation space. I am pleased to have spent time with him for a two-part interview. Here are the first two questions/answers for the first interview. At the end you can follow the link to the IdeaConnection website for the other 38 questions.

Vern Burkhardt (VB): In Personality Poker you focus on “challenge-driven” Innovation. Why?

Stephen Shapiro: I love to quote Albert Einstein when talking about this topic. He said if I had an hour to save the world, I’d spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute finding solutions. From my experience, most organizations are spending 60 minutes finding solutions to problems that don’t matter.

When you focus on challenges you’re able to create solutions that are relevant to the needs of the organization. By contrast, when you focus on broad ideas you don’t know which ones are going to be useful. This creates a lot of noise in the system and makes innovation much less efficient.

VB: In your article “how to Create a Culture of Innovation” you say, ‘The “meta-challenge” for all organizations is to find which challenges, if solved and implemented, will create the greatest value.’ Would you talk about this?

Stephen Shapiro: An organization’s ability to figure out which problems if solved would have the greatest impact is probably the single greatest measure of whether an organization will be successful. A lot of times companies spend so much time on things that aren’t relevant.

You’re not looking for solutions. You’re looking for problems and opportunities. It is about relevancy.

If you use the mind-set of focusing on challenges it raises the question of where do you find the key challenges? Obviously you’ll find them in the marketplace, from customers, and also from employees. You don’t ask, “What’s your idea for the next big product?” You ask, “What problems, if solved, would help our customers?” It puts you in the mind-set of challenge-driven innovation, which ultimately becomes customer-driven innovation. It links back to challenges that will help your customers and help you grow your market.

Click here to read the rest of this interview on the IdeaConnection website

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Why You Should Work With People You Don’t Like

March 5, 2011

Innovation Framework[This article originally appeared on the American Express Open Forum]

Contrary to “conventional wisdom,” opposites don’t do NOT attract. While individuals who are different than you might initially seem intriguing, in the long run these differences will invariably push you apart. This fact has been scientifically proven. Science aside, consider your personal relationships. If you prefer to be organized, do you praise your messy partner for his clutter? Probably not. And if you have a propensity for disorganization, don’t you cringe at your partner’s earnest pleas for orderliness?

The fact is, opposites don’t attract. They repel.

What implications does this have on business success?

Think about the people you surround yourself with at work. Are they like you? Do they think the same way? Do they have similar interests, skills and strengths? Probably.

In fact, if you look at any group of people who work effortlessly together, odds are the individuals share a lot in common with one another. They might have similar backgrounds, expertise, hobbies or personalities. This is natural. As a result, teams that lack diversity are the norm.

This desire for similarity has inherent advantages. When people think the same way, act the same way, speak the same way, and use the same language, things get done more quickly.

But is this ultimately good for business?

To answer this question, consider research done by Clint Bowers and two of his colleagues at the University of Central Florida. They studied how the homogeneity of personalities within work groups affected performance by combining the results of thirteen studies involving five hundred teams.

At first glance, there wasn’t much difference in the performance of diverse teams compared to homogeneous teams. But that wasn’t the whole story. The types of tasks the teams had to perform had a significant impact on performance.

Bowers and his colleagues went further and distinguished “low-difficulty” tasks from “high-difficulty” tasks based on how much the tasks activities involved uncertainty, complexity and demand for high-level processing.

Read the rest of this article on the American Express OPEN Forum

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The Return of the Blogger…

March 5, 2011

The manuscript went to the publisher, and so now I can return back to my blogging.  Moving forward, I will be blogging at least twice a week with those article being posted on the American Express OPEN Forum.  I will also try to add some unique content here on this site, including videos, interviews, and podcasts.  Let’s get started….

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