How Often Are New Ideas Brought Up in Your Sales Organization?

Not everyone is wired for creativity. People fear innovation because it can veer far from the ordinary, and there’s usually some risk involved. New ideas aren’t always proven to have a nice ROI.

In fact, in more than 70% of sales organizations, sales people bring new ideas to the table only when they feel it’s safe to do so, according to a recent SalesGlobe survey.

But one of the rules of innovation is to Get Comfortable Feeling Lost.

Years ago, before my work with corporate sales organizations began, I was a young art student at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts. Of all my classes – including many of my MBA classes — my Principles of Art class was one of the most influential for my career.

We spent the semester exploring eight specific concepts: pattern, variety, unity, contrast, movement, harmony, proportion, and balance. These ideas, my professor explained, are the tools used in art and design. Just as necessary as a pencil, paintbrush, or T-square, the principles of art shaped my projects because they shaped my thinking. They organized my ideas before I began a project, while I worked through a project, and how I evaluated it once I had finished.

These principles appealed not just to my creative side – the side that wanted to explore all the ways I could possibly use pattern, variety, and contrast – but also to my logical side, which sought some order among the chaos of creativity.

As I graduated from an art student to a design professional, I carried these principles with me and used them regularly in my work. And, to my surprise, when I returned to school to earn my MBA and began working with large sales organizations, I again found support from these principles. Pattern, variety, unity, contrast, movement, and harmony, it turns out, with a few modifications to their application, pertain beautifully to sales.

Today, the Innovative Sale Principles are associated with six of the eight original Principles of Art I learned more than 25 years ago. Each principle has three imperatives that apply directly to sales.

So what should you do with this information? Consider where you may have strengths and weaknesses, and how you can incorporate some of these ideas into your work. What team members might have strengths in particular areas that complement your developmental areas?

Hopefully, these principles can introduce you a new way of thinking about creating sales solutions that brings together proven approaches from the creative world with the goal-orientation of the sales world.

Principle One: Pattern

Pattern refers to our instinct to find related ideas in any given situation. Have you heard or read about a similar customer situation? You might leverage those ideas, rather than reinventing the wheel each time.

Consider three ways to incorporate this idea into real sales situations:

  1. Get Comfortable With Feeling Lost
  2. Combine Unrelated Ideas
  3. Become a Student of History

Principle Two: Variety

While Pattern uses similar elements, shapes, colors, textures, and values, Variety prefers a range of these in any single composition. 

The same idea, naturally, applies to innovative thinking in sales. You are more likely to have the elements of the right solution for your customer if you work with abundance. If, as too many sales organizations do, you stick to just the few tried-and-true solutions, you may never differentiate with a better answer.

Consider three ways to incorporate this idea into real sales situations:

  1. Produce an Abundance of Ideas
  2. Think in Divergent Directions
  3. Know that Less is More

Principle Three: Unity

Unity describes how all of the elements and principles in a composition work together to make sense. In sales innovation, Unity also refers to how all of the elements work together to make a whole – although, in a sales organization we replace color and shape with sales team members. With a sales innovation team, the collaboration of diverse individuals creates a type of energy and output that’s greater than a single point-of-view.

Consider three ways to incorporate this idea into real sales situations:

  1. Assemble the Right Team
  2. Collaborate as an Individual
  3. Understand Other Perspectives

Principle Four: Contrast

Contrast describes the differences among elements used to create interest and tension. Contrast can break up the repetition and movement created by Pattern.

In sales innovation, contrast invites the sales team to critically question and push back against established practices. With Contrast, sales teams also get comfortable with divergent opinions and the initial criticism that almost invariably accompanies new ideas.

  1. Break Rules
  2. Don’t Accept the Accepted
  3. Get Comfortable with Criticism

Principle Five: Movement

Movement creates the action in design. In sales innovation, Movement refers to the natural progression of ideas as we proceed through the thinking process. Unfortunately, innovative ideas rarely occur in a flash, and we have to be disciplined in our approach to development.

Consider three ways to incorporate this idea into real sales situations:

  1. Ask the Right Questions
  2. Grow With the Flow
  3. Walk Away From the Problem

Principle Six: Harmony

Harmony is achieved when there are several different but related elements in a composition. By using similar elements throughout, the piece appears uncomplicated. If something is harmonious, we often say, “It works.”

Sales teams working toward innovation can use the principle of Harmony like a checklist to make sure what they’ve designed can be implemented by the organization. Do the elements of the idea work together in a cohesive way? How can we implement this new idea so it works for the customer?

Consider three ways to incorporate this idea into real sales situations:

  1. Keep Perspective
  2. Check Degrees of Change
  3. Be Persistent

How can these concepts apply to your sales organization?


Last week I discussed how constraints enable creativity. Next week I’ll discuss how sales and innovation work together. Contact me at with any questions.