Trying To Sell An Idea? Advice from Ricky Gervais

Last Updated Sep 22, 2011 12:22 PM EDT


Leave it to comedian Ricky Gervais to put things into perspective in an essay for the Wall Street Journal.


"If I'd sent off the script [for The Office], it would still be in an executive's drawer. 'Bloke who's never written, directed or acted before plays a bloke who thinks he's funny but isn't, makes bad jokes, touches his tie and looks at the camera.' Doesn't exactly jump off the page, does it?"

No matter. What Gervais did next is relevant to anyone, especially in middle management, who is trying to sell an idea "upstairs." Gervais shot the pilot himself with a group of friends to illustrate his concept. It sold and in time it spawned an even more successful U.S. version starring Steve Carrell. Gervais himself is now a mega-star as an actor, writer, director and producer.

Persuading others to back a project, an initiative or a new product that you have developed is not easy. It is particularly difficult if the people you are seeking support from have authority over you. But, as Gervais and most other creative talents demonstrate, it is not impossible. Here are some guidelines.

Make it real. Gervais knew a script would not work. He fleshed out his project as a video so others could see what he was pitching â€" an odd character filmed in an odd manner to comedic effect. For managers it means you need to turn your ideas into stories. Think of how an advertising firm would present creative for your product. It would talk about the effect your product would have on customers.

Collaborate. Gervais has a writing partner, Stephen Merchant. The two of them work off the energy of each other. Too often when managers seek to push their ideas they may act more like lone eagles. That's okay when you are formulating your idea, but when you are selling there is strength in numbers. Find like minded cohorts to join with you. [Hint: Don't be afraid to incorporate some of your colleagues' good ideas into your project. Not only may they make your concept stronger, you will gain the support of your co-creators.]

Do not be discouraged. The pilot episode of The Office, writes Gervais, "got the lowest ever score in a BBC focus group." Gervais was not dissuaded. He knew he had something different and was willing to push it to the end. Understand always that you will encounter more no's than yes's. It is a matter of how you react to them that may prove vital to your project's success.

Gervais has another characteristic from which managers can learn. His humor is sharply critical and that sharpness is not spared on himself. Despite his protestations to the contrary he spends time analyzing his own comedy in an attempt to keep it fresh and alive. And as he wrote in the Wall Street Journal, he was a youngster when he discovered that adults have limitations. Now he's one of them. "You have to be old and wise to know you don't know everything."

Good advice for anyone who's pushing an idea. Always be open to the possibility, painful as it may be, that not your idea my not be the best it can be. Or worth much at all. It is not a pleasant thought but those who accept criticism and seek to improve their ideas will have a much better time of selling them the next time.

Just ask Ricky Gervais.

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