(This article originally appeared in my column at Inc.)
In July 1967, a young musician took the stage to perform as the opening act for one of the most popular bands of the day. The popular band was drawing thousands of people to venues all over the United States, and for the promising, but still largely unknown artist, this was a tremendous opportunity.
Unfortunately, the first performance didn’t go quite as hoped. According to reports, it only took a few songs before the audience began to boo the performer and demand the main act.
Like a professional, the musician finished the set and hoped for a better showing the following night. However, it didn’t get any better in the next city. In fact, it was worse. Word had spread from city to city, and the reception grew more bitter with each performance. Finally, after the seventh night of the tour, the musician walked off stage and quit the tour.
If you were present at one of those concerts in July 1967, you might have thought you were witnessing one of the greatest failures in music history. It doesn’t get much worse than being booed off-stage by an audience. However, I believe that there was something quite different going on.
Those present in the summer of 1967–when a young Jimi Hendrix took the stage to open for The Monkees–were witnessing an artist walking through the refining fires of the creative process. There was clearly a mismatch of audiences–the teenage girls who flocked to see The Monkees had no interest whatsoever in the experimental rock of Hendrix–however, in isolation Hendrix looked like an utter failure, when he was actually just in the process of finding his audience.
Sometimes, great ideas are abandoned simply because they meet initial resistance from the wrong crowd. This is true in business as much as it is in art or music. Without a clear understanding of your intended audience, it’s easy to compromise when things get tough. (Imagine if Hendrix had watered down his music to better match The Monkees’ crowd.)
I explore many of these issues in my book [amazon_link id=”1591847524″ target=”_blank” ]Louder Than Words[/amazon_link]. Here are a few key ways to give your new idea the best chance of resonating.
Define Your Intended Audience
It’s important to know who you’re trying to reach, and where you want to lead them. Unless you have an understanding of your Intended Audience, it’s tempting to throw in the towel or adapt your idea at the first resistance. This could be a segment of the market, a new client, or a specific person within your organization that you’re trying to get on-board with your idea. However, you must clearly know who you are trying to reach, and it can’t be everyone.
Commit To The Impact, Not The Initial Reception
How do you want to impact your Intended Audience? How does your idea ultimately change them? Before pitching your idea to your manager or client, or putting it out into the world, consider the impact you are trying to achieve. Ideas are impotent without some form of action or change. How will your work or idea change the conversation, or inspire action within your Intended Audience? Without a vision, it’s tempting to compromise your idea too soon.
Cultivate Empathy For Your Intended Audience
In order to reach the people you want to impact, you must understand how they will best receive your idea or work, and then shape it so that it is most likely to connect. This doesn’t mean watering it down or compromising in order to appeal. Rather, it means ensuring that you aren’t allowing blind spots or assumptions about your audience to bolster barriers to acceptance.
Don’t allow initial resistance to your idea to cause you to compromise too soon. Define your audience, commit to a vision, cultivate empathy, and get your work out into the world where it belongs.
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Last modified: December 1, 2022
Thanks Todd. I’ve noticed that in business, when trying to influence an organization a certain way, culitivating empathy is probably most important for me. I struggle with assuming everyone will see my idea with the same clarity I have, and resenting them if they don’t. I’ve also noticed timing is key. Sometimes, I have to lay the groundwork for an idea for months, even years before the team is ready. I have to stay patient. To your point about impact, I have to tell myself “if this idea takes 2 years to go through, and in the end no one will even know It was your idea, its still worth fighting for because it’s the right thing to do”
Thanks Todd! Your perspective couldn’t have come at a better time. We are a pre-revenue startup and we’ve struggled tremendously with getting our message to resonate with our audience. There’s hope yet!