Emotion before mechanics
McKinney Creative Technologist Colin Dwan on pitching ideas more effectively — spoiler alert: lead with emotion
(Conversation from an internal pitch prep for a banking client)
Me: Let’s create an Alexa skill that goes beyond basic bank actions of checking balances and simple transfers. Let’s make a true financial assistant that can forecast budget needs and adapt to surprise expenses on the fly. Why can’t we build a “Jarvis” for people’s finances?
Them: Didn’t someone else do an Alexa skill before?
Why is it so hard to pitch new technologies as part of a traditional campaign? The above response of “hasn’t someone used X technology before” is something that hurts me every time I hear it. It’s the equivalent of killing an idea because it uses a 30-second video or exists on a website. Yes, those platforms have been used before, but they’re still viable if they’re done with the right reasoning and execution. It’s not my team’s fault for misunderstanding when I’m the one who’s supposed to be presenting a new idea clearly. So why do my pitches often fall flat right out of the gate?
I’m still relatively new as an official “Creative Technologist,” so I’ve found myself bumping into these kinds of walls more often than I’d expected coming into the position. The biggest challenge I’ve faced is adapting how I pitch my ideas, because this now takes place during a different phase of the creative conversation. I’ll often bring ideas that eventually make it into the mix, but it feels like I’m stumbling my way through explanations way more than I’d like.
As a former developer and producer, I spent many years diving into the “how” of a problem. I needed to quickly identify the mechanics of an idea and figure out what was needed to pull it off. Even though I’m now concepting ideas from scratch, there’s still a strong part of me that uses those mechanical components as mental building blocks. While this can be a strength, it can also be an impediment when I’m trying to communicate ideas.
I’m learning that framing my approach in mechanics can often feel small or limiting. Even though these tech ideas have a thematic backbone, when I present with mechanics first, the broader team quickly drops out of an elevated headspace and gets lost in particulars, missing the forest for the trees.
I’ve found that I need to de-emphasize my old training and give the heart of the problem more space when introducing ideas. I need to lead the team through my thought process and allow the tech components to disappear. The tech may be awesome and necessary for the idea, but it’s the emotion that will sell everyone more than the mechanics.
So, here’s what I should have said in that opening scenario:
Me: Managing finances is a pain. Clearing time to sit with your bills or combing through your online transactions is tedious. Figuring out how those individual transactions relate to your high-level budget goals requires managing so many mental threads — often leaving a ton of uncertainty at the end of the process.
What if we could take away that stress and uncertainty by providing a personal finance assistant that helps people manage all of their daily budget challenges? Let’s build an AI that can learn your objectives, track day-to-day minutiae, and help you keep your goals on track no matter what life throws at you.
And let’s take it a step further by moving that process from a weeknight chore to a passing conversation while making coffee. We can bring this AI into the kitchen via a voice assistant like Alexa so people can ask questions, make executive decisions, and have confidence that we’re handling the busywork behind the scenes.
Them: This addresses a need that relates to our overall campaign promises. There are still a few questions, but let’s explore this a bit more.
Of course, there are a thousand ways for an idea to die before it gets made. But by ensuring ideas are presented with a simple human truth at their core, they have a better chance of surviving and evolving through the noisy pitch process.