Your Elevator Pitch Is Wrong

- Entrepreneurial Skills

by Jurgen Appelo

Editor’s Note: This blog was written when Management 3.0’s parent company was called Happy Melly One and when we had launched an experimental project called Happy Melly, which focused on happiness at work. Today Happy Melly has been absorbed by Management 3.0, which is part of the Happy Melly Group.

Every elevator pitch, slogan and value statement is wrong. But admittedly they can also be very useful.

Have you ever tried the technique on yourself?

  • What is your elevator pitch when you make a new friend?
  • Which slogan do you use to dazzle community members?
  • Which unique selling points make you attractive on a date?

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with techniques that attempt to simplify what is a complex matter. As a human being, my value to others cannot be simply reduced to an elevator pitch, slogan, value statements, mission statements, soundbites, unique selling points, or hallway resonators. So why would it be any different for my business?

My business consists of multiple people and therefore has the potential to be even more complex!

It reminds me of my favorite quote. In fact, the very first quote I used in my first book:

For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

H.L. Mencken

Explaining the value of being part of Happy Melly is a complex problem. Our team is now in the process of using simplistic techniques to reduce our business to a few sentences that will explain the purpose of Happy Melly, but may well have the reverse effect. Are we setting ourselves up for failure?

Perhaps. However…

My other favorite quote is the very last one I used in my first book:

All models are wrong but some are useful.

George Box

Elevator pitches, value statements, slogans, and hallway resonators are essentially wrong, but some of these techniques are useful. They sharpen our thinking, help us communicate better, and enable easier decisions. It’s totally worth wasting my time trying to explain the benefits of Happy Melly, with an outcome that is destined to be wrong and useful at the same time.

Come to think of it, as I recommended you to do. I might try out some of these techniques on myself. What is my mission statement? What are my soundbites, and my unique selling points, as a human being? The answers I find might be wrong. But they might help me next time I’m hanging out in a community, making new friends, or when I’m exploring a new date.

Image credits @FlickR/CreativeCommons:Superman’s Elevator Pitch by Frederik Hermann


4 thoughts on "Your Elevator Pitch Is Wrong"

  • Wanja Krah says:

    Sometimes complexity isn’t always what someone is looking for. I can imagine that when I’m looking for a new friend, simplicity isn’t one of my checkboxes. However, when I’m looking a plasterer or a painter, I want someone who’s precise, trustworthy, knows how to get the job done and doesn’t ask more than about 45 euro an hour. Nothing more, nothing less.
    So I guess, the first question is, what’s your audience. What are they looking for? I think the conflict arises when your audience has a complex need and you can’t get their primary attention for more than 30 seconds. In that case, you don’t need to tell them how complex you are, you need to convince them to listen longer to you.

  • Riccardo Bua says:

    I agree that oversimplification reduces meaning and hides the complexity, still this is a bit far from calling it wrong, it is just a small reduction of a large set of issues, the challenge is finding the right balance between simplicity and complexity when you want to condense your messsage and still keep it meaningful.

  • Yves Hanoulle says:

    Wanja, I also want a person who can do it at the moment I want it to be done…
    as an example how with simplification it can be easy to forget something very important..

  • Thomas Ponnet says:

    Nicely written, thank you. I love these two quotes as well and use them often.
    Interestingly enough wikiquote has the original as “… there is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.”
    instead of
    “For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”
    So this quote in itself is a simplification.The reason I find the difference worth pointing out is that the slight variation of meaning is actually quite interesting as it questions the “what everyone knows to be true” mentality. This could be anything from it always rains in Scotland, meat makes you stronger or other urban myths.

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