22 May If You Communicate It, They Will Come
In the 1989 movie fantasy, Field of Dreams, Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner, one
day hears a voice in his cornfield that whispers, “If you build it, he will come.” Derided as a lunatic, Ray
nonetheless does build “it”—a baseball diamond—in his cornfield, and ultimately, “he” does come (for
the presumed handful who’ve never seen the movie, I’ll avoid the spoiler and leave it at that).
Through countless consulting engagements, I’ve repeatedly heard that memorable movie thesis twisted
into a metaphor for the assumed market irresistibility of innovative products, services, and initiatives. In
so doing, the Field of Dreams allegory becomes simply a latter day spin on an even older metaphor:
“Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door” (which itself is a re-invented
phrasing of a quote widely attributed to an 1855 speech by Ralph Waldo Emerson).
The question is, does it really work this way?
Perhaps in the happily-ever-after, make-believe world of Tinseltown it does, but in the real world of
professional enterprise, the answer—certainly in the case of mousetraps—seems clearly to be “no.”
Scads of innovators have taken a swing at re-engineering the mousetrap. As a matter of fact,
mousetraps are among the most doggedly invented, or more accurately, re-invented, devices around.
According to author David Burkus, the United States Patent and Trademark Office has issued more
than four thousand patents for mousetraps—and denied thousands more. Even more bewildering,
hundreds of new mousetrap patent applications are submitted each year. Yet, only twenty or so have
ever made any money.
All of which points to a painful truth: what you do—be it innovating better products, conducting
breakthrough scientific research, providing desirable services, or something else—rarely is enough to
attract the committed customers and funders you need. Equally important, and some might argue even
more so, is the ability and will to insistently, persistently, and cogently sell yourself, your ideas, your
products, your services, your results, and your organization to essential stakeholders. In short, you
have to persuade the world to start path beating. Computing innovator and pioneer, Howard H. Aiken,
put it this way, “If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.”
That’s easy to say, not so easy to do. It means convincing others that what you have done, or will do,
benefits them in a meaningful way. Or, said differently, you must signal the value in what you do to the
outside world. And that means having some pretty serious communication chops. It means aligning
what you want to say with the motives and aspirations of those who hold sway over your success—be
they prospects, customers, funders, investors, regulators, partners, employees, members, or someone
So no matter your profession—businessperson, scientist, association leader, or mousetrap
engineer—persuading the world to beat a path to your door requires not only innovative products,
services, or initiatives, but also the compelling messages and communications that crisply and clearly
convey the worth and value of what you do.