to orbit, 100,000 kilometers up, at a
cost per kilogram less than 1/100 of
costs with current rocket technolo-
gies. They organize competitions to
try out different lift mechanisms, ma-
terials, payloads, and energy recovery
systems. They invite investors to join
them in making this dream become
a real technology. Although they have
not selected a motto, it might be “Lift-
ing your loads to the stars.”
But the notion that a pitch is a pré-
cis of an envisioning story is not quite
right. A closer examination reveals that
a pitch is actually a combination of a
précis of the envisioning story and an
offer. The offer to make the vision hap-
pen is the heart of the third practice. In
the example(s) of pitches cited above,
you can see not only a summary of the
idea but an invitation to investors to
help make it happen.
The standard idea of a pitch is that
it is a communication—a presentation
transmitting information from a speaker to a listener. In contrast, the core idea
in the Eight Practices of innovation is
that each practice is a conversation that
generates a commitment to produce an
outcome essential to the innovation.
The envisioning story is a conversation
to elicit the listener’s commitment to
imagine how the world would be with
the new idea incorporated into it. The
offer is a conversation to elicit a listener’s commitment to join the speaker in
making that world happen.
The problem with the communication idea is that communications do
not elicit commitments. Conversations elicit commitments. Commitments produce action.
We can now define a pitch as a short
conversation that seeks a commitment
to listen to an offer conversation. It is
transitional between the envisioning
and offering conversations. The pur-
The advice to prepare
an elevator pitch is
to be valuable for
We can now define
a pitch as a short
seeks a commitment
to listen to an offer
pose of a pitch is to engage the other
person into a conversation with you
about your idea. This is a sharp contrast with the conventional idea that a
pitch is a transmission of information.
Peter once assisted his coauthor Bob
Dunham in leading a workshop with
small-business CEOs. Bob formed ev-
eryone into groups of three and asked
them to “state their offer” to their two
listeners, then receive constructive
feedback on how engaging their offer
is. He specifically said to think of it as
a version of the elevator pitch. In all
the groups, the feedback was largely
negative. The elevator pitches were not
engaging. Bob knew that something
was amiss because all these CEOs were
successful in their businesses. Why
would a warm-up exercise about what
their business offers be so unsuccess-
ful? I conferred with Bob and we con-
cluded that the CEOs were working
from information-transmission no-
tion of their pitch. They decided to try
an experiment in which Peter would
break that paradigm in his group. Bob
ran the exercise again with the same
instructions but different groups. As
before the first two speakers in Peter’s
group presented their “offers” and got
lukewarm feedback. They then looked
at Peter for his turn. This little segment
of conversation took place:
Wendy: Your turn.
Peter: Before we start ... are you interested in innovation?
Wendy: You bet. If my business does
not come up with an innovative idea
soon, we’ll be gone.
Peter: I’m writing a book on how to
succeed at innovation. Would you be
interested in talking about it at lunch?
Wendy: Sure thing! But let’s get back
to our work. What is your offer?
Peter: I just made it.
The point that the whole group understood after this was that the purpose
was to gain a commitment from the
other person to have more conversation with you about what you can offer.
If you think about the elevator pitch
as an offer to discuss how to solve the
other person’s problem or get a job
done for them, you will approach the
conversation in a different way from a
We call the elevator pitch a myth because it is a widely shared belief that
a short fast-paced presentation is essential to the success of a project or
innovation. The data show almost no
correlation between these pitches or
their supporting business plans and
the final desired outcomes.
The useful nugget of the myth is
that a short compelling summary of
your idea is worth developing. It will
help you in completing the envisioning
practice, which is essential to success.
It will also help you in making connections with other people—such as those
whom you might serendipitously encounter in an elevator—and who might
be helpful to you in the future.
To make this work, you need to reinterpret the pitch. It is not a transmission of information but an offer to have
a conversation. It is often much easier
to ask someone to join you in a conversation than it is to present a polished,
sticky, commercial-grade presentation. A conversational pitch will get you
closer to your idea being adopted.
1. denning, P. and dunham, r. The Innovator’s Way. MIt
2. Heath, C. and Heath, d. Made to Stick. random House,
3. kirsch, d., Goldfarb, b., and Gera, a. Form or
substance: the role of business plans in venture
capital decision making. Strategic Management
Journal 30 (2009), 487–515.
4. Pincus, a. the perfect (elevator) pitch. Bloomsberg
Businessweek (June 18, 2007); http://www.
Peter J. Denning ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is distinguished
Professor of Computer science and director of the
Cebrowski Institute for information innovation at the
naval Postgraduate school in Monterey, Ca, is editor of
aCM ubiquity, and is a past president of aCM.
nicholas Dew ( email@example.com) is associate Professor of
strategic Management at the naval Postgraduate school
in Monterey, Ca. He researches entrepreneurship and is
a co-author of the recently published textbook Effectual
Copyright held by author.