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A Pitch in Time Sways Nine

January 9, 2013

Dan Pink has just released a book, To Sell is Human, that is making its way to best-seller status.  See my earlier blog-post on this – click Here to read that, and you can also read my review on Amazon if you’re interested.  There is one particularly interesting chapter that is devoted to pitches (Chapter 7).  He points out in his book, using statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that 1 in 9 people make their living directly through selling. But he makes a strong argument that the other 8 are sellers too – essentially all of us. So, all nine of us pitch and sway in the seething sea where words, thoughts and reality commingle, confound and eventually converge … or not.


In a world where attention is an over-allocated resource, it can be quite a challenge to get people’s consciousness to switch toward you, and to stay there until you have had a chance to insert your message in the stream of scream-speed neurons hurtling down the cognitive roller-coaster they’re on.

To see or not to see … that is the question. In a swirling info-space where data, wisdom, jargon-laced theories and respectable-looking debris fly in, collide and blur in real time, people must do their best to discriminate … to make sense. But the deluge of information overwhelms all too often, and makes it a challenge to see with clarity.

Forgive them for they do not know what they do not know. But you do! And you have appointed yourself (or have had it thrust upon you) to go where too many others have gone before you, and perished. You need to find a way into the sacred cognitive spaces inhabited by those who own them; find the secret trapdoors, that surely do exist. What are the magic words that open these doors?

The Pitch.

The word epitomizes and encapsulates the very message it seeks to send in a single syllable: short, meaningful and to the point. Dictionaries provide varied meanings and origins for the word “pitch”, including one that suggests a similarity between throwing words at someone, and a baseball at a batter. I prefer to use the word’s connotation as an attribute of sound as a point of reference to color the word. In open markets where individual shoppers and vendors engage, gesticulate wildly and haggle – these have, of course, been crushed by the giant retailing machines that have largely replaced them in many countries – the human voice ruled.  You had to be heard above the din! When sheer lung power failed to combat volume with volume, pitch came to the rescue. A vendor who could tune his or her vocal chords to a different key stood out, and drew people in.

And so it is, now too. If you must persuade, if you must have someone’s ear, you must first get them to pay attention to your words. Something about how you say what you say must influence those within earshot to listen to you. It may be less about the message than about the medium, to paraphrase McLuhan.

Dan Pink says it well in his new book, To Sell is Human. Not only that, he provides a few different approaches that have been used successfully by Pixar and other companies.  This blog-post includes a graphic from his book that is a valuable artifact for anyone that needs to pitch anything. This includes anyone in IT as well as the Enterprise Architects who need to sell new visions to people used to doing things successfully in an older, but gradually fading world.

– Balaji Prasad, January 2013

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