How to Sell Innovation
Don’t Paddle Upstream

by James on October 22, 2008

I had a job in college teaching white water canoeing to Doctors, Lawyers, and assorted business executive that taught me something about selling innovation that has stuck with me for many years. How so you wonder. Well let me tell you.

The Doctors, Lawyers and other successful business people would trek up north to the French River from Toronto, Ontario for a special wilderness experience. We used Blue Chute, a narrow gap in the Canadian Shield where the entire river is forced to flow, to teach them all about whitewater canoeing. Blue Chute is spectacular and, when the water is high, can be intimidating.

We liked to play a game with the students. We told them that the two smallest instructors, often a couple and sometimes two women, could paddle their canoe up Blue Chute. That they could paddle up stream. This always resulted in a wager. We always had lots of takers. We always won the bet.

What the students, for all their success and accomplishments, didn’t know was how to paddle upstream. The instructors appeared to be paddling  against a huge torrent of water. What they were actually doing was catching a succession of eddies, currents created by the main flow that travel in the opposite direction. They used these counter currents to propel themselves up the ferocious torrent of water. The only really difficult task was bridging the lip of the shoot.  Again, not that hard with a bit of planning.  The strongest of the pair would sit in the front and pull the canoe over the lip. After that they caught another eddy and there you have it.  Wager won.

Hip Shots

  • When selling innovation, don’t battle the weight of the water. Use the currents in your organization to your advantage. Find the eddies and use them to push your ideas through your company.
  • Plan your path and keep your strongest argument available to overcome key obstacles.

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