The Green Smoothie Problem: Why Others Don’t Buy Your Ideas

Jay Acunzo
Aug 20, 2017 · 6 min read
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>>> This article has been updated to include new information and a more polished methodology. Please find the updated version on my personal site here. <<<

Ever excitedly share an idea with a teammate, boss, or client that’s met with such horror that you wonder if you’d accidentally suggested clubbing baby seals?

Oh! Uhhh, yeah me neither. But, like, you HAVE received some confusing or hesitant looks, right? Right. Okay. Same page.

Because it’s just so easy for us to share our ideas, only for others to question them or shoot them down without another thought.

Why? The Green Smoothie Problem.

Imagine I just handed you a smoothie in a glass. “It’s a green smoothie. Wanna drink it?”

If you’ve never seen or heard of a smoothie like that, you’d react in one of two ways:

  1. You’d anchor to things you already understand to be similar. “Oh, I saw this at the gym once. It’s like, grass or something. Gross!” Or maybe, “This looks like a children’s drink. It’s gonna be too sugary for me. No thanks.”
  2. You’d look for social proof that says it’s a good drink. “Do people really drink this? Do the studies show it’s good to drink? Are celebrities endorsing this? Is there a green smoothie case study I can see?”

Simply by handing you the smoothie, I’ve immediately put you at an information disadvantage. As a result, you anchor to a past precedent or try to draw confidence from others in order to fill in the gaps in your knowledge as quickly as possible. If my goal is to get you to drink the smoothie, I’ve done a rather poor job. I’ve merely handed you the drink and left you to do all the reasoning to influence your decision.

But if I really wanted to influence your decision, what if I shared the reasoning too?

What if, rather than simply hand you the smoothie, I laid out the details of how I came up with it?

If I said to you, “Remember last week, when you told me you wanted to be healthy? And then you joked about all those foul-tasting health drinks? Well, I took some mango, some apple, some kiwi, a banana, a handful of kale, and some protein powder, and I blended that together. Also, I went on this island vacation last year and saw them use coconut oil in their drinks. It was delicious, so I added some of that. And I used the blender we already have in the company kitchen, so it was done in almost no time. So, if you want to get healthy but still drink something delicious, here’s what I’m thinking. (Places glass on table.) It’s a green smoothie. Will you drink it?”

If you’ve never seen or heard of a smoothie like that, you’d react in one of two ways:

  1. You’d happily drink it. “I love those ingredients! That sounds both healthy and delicious! Yes, please!”
  2. Or, if not, you and I could discuss the ingredients and the process in concrete details. Rather than a wholesale “nope,” we can have a more objective discussion for ways to actually improve the thinking and therefore the idea. “Could we take out the kale? I hate how bitter it tastes.” Sure! No problem! How about some spinach? “You know, the kitchen blender kinda sucks. I think I burnt it out making all those protein shakes. Let’s get a new one.” Yes! Definitely! And by the way, boss, you’re looking swoll!

By sharing my THINKING, not just the IDEA, you’re no longer at an information disadvantage, so you can either proceed with confidence and clarity or, at very least, we can have a more objective conversation about the ingredients and process that go into making the smoothie (as well as your proper form for better bicep curls).

As creators, the point is not to sell our ideas. The point is to sell why our ideas should exist.

By laying out our thinking, it’s no longer combative. It’s no longer you (the proxy for your idea) versus them (those who would pass judgment on the idea). Instead, everyone is now involved in the thinking process. In other words, we have to make others feel like cofounders of our ideas. That way, we can put our thinking on the board and, together, discuss or improve it.

Too often, when we use our intuition to come up with ideas, we arrive at something faster than traditional reasoning can explain. Our minds have produced an exponential curve, while others around us try their linear logic. Worse, we then share those ideas in their final state with great excitement. This only isolates others further. They have NO idea how we arrived there, and we’re effectively dancing on top of that harsh reality.

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When we act this way, we’re relying too heavily on the other person to fill in the gaps in thinking, and that’s where they anchor to preconceived notions or require case studies and social proof — both poor ways to arrive at exciting new ideas. It all stems from their lack of information. We’ve given them the destination, but they have no idea how to get there. So it’s our job to help them do so.

How? Some suggestions…

1) Start with what they want. “Last week, you told me you wanted to be healthy.” That’s exactly the result my forthcoming idea will deliver. We’re on the same page, and we both want the same outcome.

2) Include any biases or beliefs they might have. “You also said the usual healthy drinks are foul.” My forthcoming idea takes into account what you believe. You’ve been heard. Your opinions matter, and you’re influencing our direction. (Note: Make sure their beliefs were overtly stated. Nothing will kill your idea quite like saying, “And I know how much you hate fun, boss!” But enough about the time Bob got fired…)

3) Pull from personal experiences or sources outside your niche, but explain them as such. “I went on this island vacation and saw them using coconut oil.” I’m letting you know that, yes, this is atypical, but it added a welcome new element that helps this improve or differentiate. I’m not leaving you to guess as to why a slightly odd ingredient in my thinking snuck in there. I’m telling you: I was inspired by the world we live in.

4) Share your best guess as the cost (in time or money). “I used the blender we already have in the company kitchen so it was done in almost no time.”

5) Reiterate the potential outcome and core beliefs. “So, if you want to get healthy but still drink something delicious…”

6) Finally, reveal the actual idea. “It’s a green smoothie. Will you drink it?”

Look, I get it: This feels like more work. And maybe at first, that’s true. At first, you may find yourself carefully thinking through your talking points or reflecting on what inspirational sources actually triggered that idea. But like the very intuition you possess that led you to that idea so instantly, the more you use the approach, the less effort it will require.

Albert Einstein (allegedly) called intuition “our most sacred gift.” In no way should we bury that gift or slow its ability to generate answers in an instant. But if we want others to eagerly drink up our ideas, we can’t just share the smoothie. We have to explain the ingredients and the recipe. Maybe then we’ll get the reaction we REALLY want in our quest to have meaningful creative careers:

“That was great! Can I have some more?”

JAY ACUNZO is a keynote speaker and the creator and host of Unthinkable, a narrative-style podcast sharing stories of conventional thinking at work and those who dare to question it. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher.

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