Hardly an innovation event passes without mentioning how Kodak passed on the digital camera or how Blockbuster decided not to invest in streaming entertainment. But with the rapid rate of disruption, how do you ensure that great ideas can penetrate established organizations?

One of the key reasons why great ideas never see the light of day is because idea authors struggle to pitch a good idea. Here are the top five challenges when pitching a new idea.

Defining Value

Someone once said to me that an innovator is anyone who thinks to themselves “this sucks” – broadening the definition of who we think our innovators are. The idea is simple though: innovation means seeing that things can be better another way. People who excel at pitching are masters of articulating how. Whether it’s the customer experience or an improvement to be made to the workplace, articulate the problem and how the new value delivered can be measured or quantified.


At IdeaScale, we say that every idea needs to be viable, feasible, and desirable…but we also say that it needs to be “vettable.” Every great idea can be blocked by a decision maker or gatekeeper who doesn’t understand its value, so customize the pitch. Know what they care about, what they invest in, what criteria they want to hear about, and what questions they might ask. Not all parts of your pitch are relevant to all audiences so if they care about compliance, highlight that – if they care about prototyping, share your progress to date. If you know your idea inside and out, then it’s easier to trim back to just the most relevant details for your audience and then answer any outstanding questions that they might have.

Avoiding Weaknesses

In his book Originals, Adam Grant shares an anecdote about two successful entrepreneurs who started their presentation with the top five reasons NOT to invest in their business. This tactic was enormously successful, because it demonstrated a level of self-reflection and disarmed skeptics. If you can point out where you still have opportunity to grow or problems to solve, that also gives your audience the opportunity to help you solve them.


Typos, awkward pauses, technical issues… all of these things can derail an otherwise great pitch. The best way to overcome this obstacle is to practice and to bring other people into your work. Another set of eyes can make a huge difference and the more comfortable you are with the content, the more comfortable your audience will be with you.

Lack of Storytelling

There is a body of emerging research that suggests we are a species particularly susceptible to narrative. Data alone doesn’t convince most people. Try to align the audience with the lived experience of the problem and the relief of the solution. It’s one of the reasons that design thinking is so powerful – it relies on empathy with the customer or end user and storytelling is the short cut to developing that empathy. We also store stories in our memory with greater ease than data so it’s more likely that someone will still be thinking about your idea after your presentation is over.

To ensure that anyone at your organization can give their great idea the best shot, register for Excelling at Innovation – a self-paced course that covers the essentials of innovation for innovators, intrapreneurs, and entrepreneurs. 

About the Author

Rob Hoehn is the co-founder and CEO of IdeaScale: the largest open innovation software platform in the world. Hoehn launched crowdsourcing software as part of the open government initiative and IdeaScale’s robust portfolio now includes many other industry notables, such as EA Sports, NBC, NASA, Xerox and many others. Prior to IdeaScale, Hoehn was Vice President of Client Services at Survey Analytics.



Featured image via Unsplash.