How to Sell Innovative Ideas: Anchor and Twist

Last Updated Feb 25, 2010 9:19 AM EST

How to sell innovative ideas with anchor and twistRadically different ideas might be the ones that are most likely to be game changers, but their very newness also makes them among the trickiest to communicate. So how do you sell your innovation without baffling your audience or losing your listeners in the minutiae of the plan? Fast Company's Dan Heath has a plan of attack -- use "anchor and twist." How does it work?
The first thing you've got to do is anchor in what people already know. So let's say I had to explain Netflix to somebody who'd never heard of it. Well, I could start by saying, Netflix is like Blockbuster. Now at least you're in the right mental space--okay, I get it, it's a movie rental business. But then I can add to it: Netflix is like Blockbuster--but it's by mail. Or it's Blockbuster with no late fees, or Blockbuster that actually has the movies you want in stock.
As another example, think about the first generation of cars--how are you going to explain a "car" to someone who's never seen one. Well, they were called "horseless carriages." "Carriage" is the anchor--people understood what that was.
Notice that an anchor alone isn't enough. An anchor is about creating similarity.... But the whole point of innovation is that it's something new, something different. So you're anchoring to help people understand, but you also need a twist. A twist is what gets them excited.
Anchor and twist is a concept that's often used in the movie business. How do you boil down all the hair-raising action of monster movie classic Alien? Simple, it's Jaws in space. Maybe this technique could work in your industry too.

(Anchor image by Andrew Stawarz; twist image by duziem; both CC 2.0)

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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.