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How to develop winning proposals

How to develop winning proposals using all four Innovation Styles®

I was speaking with a colleague whose client was preparing a proposal for an innovative initiative, to present to their company’s executive committee. At one point, we talked about where the resistance might come from – not based on the content of the proposal, but based on the kind of innovative thinking behind the content.

My research, starting in the 1980s as Head of Innovation Management for Stanford Research Institute, has revealed 4 distinct strategies of innovative thinking. These Innovation Styles® are all equally important to well-rounded innovation:

  • Visioning pictures an ideal long-term solution
  • Modifying builds on what has been done
  • Experimenting combines elements in unique ways
  • Exploring seeks the radically new and different

As “languages” of innovation, each of us might have a “mother tongue” – how we most naturally think when we’re generating and presenting innovative solutions. The discussion with my colleague turned to how executive committee members (or any group of “buyers” of a proposal…) will each have their own preference for an Innovation Style.

So when a proposal is being presented…

  • An executive who is listening from a Visioning perspective might wonder: How does this help us meet our long-term aspirations – our vision of where we ideally want to be in 3-5 years – as the industry leader and the employer-of-choice for top talent
  • An executive who is listening from a Modifying perspective might wonder: How does this build on what we know and trust… optimize what we have been doing successfully up to now… and strengthen our core competencies
  • An executive who is listening from an Experimenting perspective might wonder: How does this combine the best practices throughout the organization, synergize our capabilities across different functions and business units, and take advantage of our alliances and strategic partners?
  • An executive who is listening from an Exploring perspective might wonder: How does this take us into exciting new territory that puts us on the pioneering, leading-edge of our industry, even redefining the rules of the game (of competition)?

And if they’re question is not being answered in the proposal presentation, each person is likely to object with statements like:

  • “This is too timid; we need something bolder. If we don’t take the lead, someone else will and we’ll be left playing catch-up.” (Visioning)
  • “That is too radical; I doubt that we could pull it off. We’d need to know how our talents and skills could make this work” (Modifying)
  • “That is too idealistic; it could never happen. We need to try things out in pilot projects, see what works, and then scale up carefully.” (Experimenting)
  • “That is too conventional, not ‘out of the box’ enough. We need to shake things up, re-invent ourselves, and ‘go where no one has gone before.’” (Exploring)

My colleague left our discussion prepared to guide the proposal writers to include…

  • How their proposal helps fulfill bold, long term aspirations. (Visioning)
  • How their proposal builds on and optimizes what is known and trusted. (Modifying)
  • How their proposal combines and tests things out, taking risks in stages. (Experimenting)
  • How their proposal offers something totally new and ground-breaking. (Exploring)

While all four Innovation Styles® can be useful for any kind of proposed change, I’ve found these guidelines especially valuable when developing proposals for clients as well as for internal initiatives such as new product development, organizational change, and process improvement. 

William Miller's picture
About the author

William C. Miller, co-founder of Values Centered Innovation, is passionate about integrating emotional intelligence, human values, and mental discipline with our innate capabilities to be innovative.