Becoming Backable

Getting someone to take a chance on you is one of the most important steps to achieving success in both business and life. Yet mastering the art of persuasion is often overlooked and misunderstood.

Alexander Fleming, the inventor of penicillin, was especially bad at communicating his discovery, despite it being one of the most important scientific advances in history. As a result, over 10 years were wasted and millions of lives lost because Fleming lacked the skills of persuasion. In contrast, the nefarious founder of the Fyre Festival, Billy McFarland, was masterful at getting people to back his idea, which turned out to be a giant fraud.

Why do some ideas get backed and others bounced? And how can we become better at getting people to take a chance on us? That’s the exact topic of author Suneel Gupta’s new book: Backable – The Surprising Truth Behind What Makes People Take a Chance on You. Gupta researched the science of persuasion and deconstructed thousands of backable moments — from tech startups landing major funding to movie deals getting the green light — to illuminate the core principles of becoming backable.

Most of us aren’t raising startup capital, but all of us can benefit from becoming more backable. For some, it’s scoring a long-overdue promotion at work. For others, it’s convincing your church or synagogue to embrace your new idea to grow membership. Being backable helps win the hearts and minds of clients, colleagues, business partners, investors, the media, neighbors, and even romantic partners.

It turns out that being backable isn’t a unique genetic quirk but rather a learnable skill. Gupta goes on to share a specific methodology that any of us can embrace to become backable. Some of my favorite insights include:

  • Cast a Central Character. Instead of pitching your idea in the abstract, tell the story through the lens of a single persona. This could be a customer, patient, investor, child, or any key stakeholder in your overall value proposition.
  • Find an Earned Secret. Demonstrate your hustle by showing a depth of knowledge that’s far beyond superficial. Communicate an insight that you had to really work to discover.
  • Flip Outsiders to Insiders. Show vulnerability and open-mindedness by inviting a backer to come over to your side of the table. Ask how they might approach things differently, request their help, and give them a sense of ownership.
  • Make it Feel Inevitable. Convey your big idea in a way that portrays success as a foregone conclusion. Swap the notion that it ‘might’ happen with the certainty that it will.

Until reading the book, I hadn’t considered that being backable is a learned skill that any of us can improve. Too often, we get so caught up in the details of our work that we neglect the importance of how we’ll persuade others to embrace it. Crucially, when we become more backable, we improve the outcomes of the things we care about the most.

Before presenting your next big idea, first develop a concrete strategy to ensure you are backable.

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