In the science fiction movie Inception, the businessman Mr Saito hires Dom Cobb, a skilled dream invader, to assemble a team to plant an idea in the mind of Robert Fischer, who is about inherit his father’s massive business empire. It is a simple idea. Saito wants Fischer to break up and sell his father’s empire. But the thought must be so deeply planted in his subconscious by having dreams within dreams within dreams that Fischer thinks it is his idea.
Mr Saito recognized that it is much better to let the other person think an idea is his or hers. Thankfully, most of us do not have to go to such extremes to achieve this, but the message is worth remembering. Most of us do not like other people ramming ideas down our throat. Even if the other party’s idea is very good, we may be reluctant to go with it because they will take the credit. In business many of us have come across “Not invented here” syndrome, where we get the impression that some part of our company is not enthusiastically behind an idea because we came up with it, not them. Bear this in mind when you are trying to convince someone to do something. Make subtle suggestions and let the other person think out the conclusion. This principle can be applied in business and personal matters.
Carnegie gives a few examples. In one a designer who made sketches of textiles and hairstyles had been trying to sell his designs to a stylist for years, with no success. Then he tried a different approach. He brought in unfinished sketches and asked the stylist to do him a favor. He asked him to look over the sketches and make suggestions as to how they should be finished.
The designer came back a few days later, got the sketches and finished them according to the suggestions. They were all accepted. The stylist accepted them since, because of his input, he felt they were his ideas.
Everybody likes to claim an idea is theirs. It makes them feel clever and important. If you are designing something, let your boss or a customer decide the color or some other feature so they can claim it as their own in some way.
Carnegie gives another example of application of the principle to personal life. A man wanted to go on a family vacation to historical sites in the Eastern United States while his wife wanted to visit scenic sites in the West. They could not do both. Instead of tackling the idea straight on, he spoke over the dinner table to their daughter, who had just learned some history in school. He asked her if she would like to visit some of the sites she had learned about in school. Of course she agreed. Then with no further discussion of vacation plans, his wife made the suggestion two days later that they should go East on holiday because it would be such a thrill for their daughter to visit the sites.
This approach also works well in politics. If you want something done, you might find it more effective to ignore your ego and let others steal your ideas. Carnegie gives the example of Colonel Edward House, an advisor to US president Woodrow Wilson. House learned that the best way to convert the president to an idea was to plant it in his mind casually and get him to think about it further himself. The first time he noticed this was when the president recycled one of House’s ideas as his own a few days after he had argued against it. House did not let him know it was his idea originally. He wanted results, so he let Wilson take credit for the idea.
If you want results, let other people come up with your ideas.