This week I got pointed out that I had missed an important part when it comes to selling innovation-as-a-service. The part I missed was the concept of external and internal innovation.

External innovations are the new methods, ideas, and products that are introduced by external parties such as innovation-as-a-service businesses or other companies selling consultation and training.

Internal innovations are the innovations that are brought into attention by important stakeholders and people inside your own organization. I’m talking about new ideas generated by your colleagues and customers.

There is hostility towards external innovations. First of all, this reaction of hostility is understandable because we humans in general don’t like to be told what to do by outsiders. The second, and a more important, reason for hostility is that the motivations of the external party might be bad or the advice given by the external party might be coming from a place of ignorance rather than understanding.

When I say that the motivations might be bad, I’m not saying that the outsider is trying to screw you over.

I’m saying that the motivations might be fueled by ego rather than desire to serve.

This is the part where I’m going to move away from selling innovation-as-a-service and sales in general.

Because what I’m going to say next has importance to you whether you’re working primarily in sales or primarily as a developer like I do. I’m going to talk about making action happen inside your organization or inside your client’s organization. After that I’m going to bring it back to the idea of ego and innovation.

Let’s start with action

You are currently trying to sell both your clients and colleagues new ideas, methods or products even if you don’t realize it. You might be trying to introduce a new feature for your users. You might be trying to change the way your current project is managed. You might be trying to get your co-workers to switch from one developer tool to another.

It takes effort for people to change the way they do things. If someone adopts an innovation, big or small, they need to be sold on it. They need to be convinced that it’s beneficial for them to give their attention, time, money, or social status now in order to make their life better in the future.

Simply put, you need to generate action that takes effort.

Larry Ferlazzo is an award-winning high-school teacher and a known blogger and columnist. When it comes to moving people into action, Ferlazzo makes a distinction between two different approaches: irritation and agitation. Irritation is trying to make people do something that we want them to do. Agitation is trying to make people do something that they want to do.

When you come from outside of the team or the organization and try to make things happen in the way that you feel is the best way, you are irritating people. You are trying to make people dance in your tune. You are trying to generate action around external innovations.

By way of agitation, you try to listen to people and find out what they really want but fail to achieve. You move the obstacles from their way and you give them the nudge they need in order to take actual steps towards their goals.

It’s easy to see how agitation can lead to more meaningful action compared to irritation. But in general, it’s more common to experience irritation than it is to experience agitation.

I’m not going to deny that I don’t irritate. Cause I definitely do irritate. This blog post is inspired not only by discussions that I have had with other people but also by my own actions of irritation.

To err is human. To irritate is human as well.

However, even though I am an irritator, I would like to say that I’m a remorseful irritator. I'm also an aspiring agitator.

Ego is not an agitator

Why is it easier for me to irritate than it is to agitate? Why is it easier for the people you know to irritate? Why is it easier for you to irritate?

Let’s bring the idea of ego, your sense of self-esteem and self-worth, back to the discussion. Because I'm willing to argue that it is your ego that wants to irritate, not you. Your ego doesn’t want to agitate. Your ego doesn’t want you to be humble or understanding (important skills needed for agitation) because those characteristics are in direct conflict with it.

Humility challenges your sense of self-importance. Willingness to learn from mistakes challenges your sense of intellect. When you get humbled, or when you realize that you can be a real dummy at times, it hurts because your ego takes a blow.

Naturally, things that can increase your sense of self-importance are in harmony with your ego. There is no conflict. There are no uncomfortable feelings.

A thing that can give you this kind of an ego comfort is if you can become a savior or a visionary inside your or your client’s organization. Maybe there is a project that is going through a rough patch. You want to be the one who comes in guns blazing, lays out the action plan, and leads the team to victory. Or maybe there is a problem inside your client’s organization that you want to solve with your own creative ideas.

If things are done in your way, you'll get the credit. You’ll be praised as the savior or the visionary. Your ego will get what it wants.

But of course this won’t happen. Your clients and colleagues will see your ego in action way before you even realize that the ego has taken over. They will experience the irritation, not the agitation.

No sale, no action, no change.

Additional notes

I first learned about agitation, irritation and Larry Ferlazzo from Daniel H. Pink’s book To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others.