Hot Dogs, Lee Iacocca and The Power of Rapport

By Tony Vengrove

iStock Image

There is nothing more forbidding than a new idea. The appearance of a novel concept begs the skeptic in us to search for its fatal flaw. Most great ideas challenge the status quo and are instantly imbued with risk and complexity. Our disdain for change and fear of failure usually combine to cause a search for everything that is possibly wrong with the idea, right up until it’s blatantly obvious that the “old way” is far superior to the new idea in question. “Phew. Thank goodness we didn’t let THAT crazy idea get approved!”

Those in the business of selling ideas are not strangers to this song and dance. For people in advertising, there’s an art to setting up an campaign idea before any script is presented.  This skill isn’t just about explaining what the audience will see; it’s about building rapport.

Rapport allows us to relate to others in a way that creates trust and empathy. When presenters are successful at building rapport they make their audience feel comfortable and relaxed. The great ones get their audience on the edge of their seats; they pull them out of a doubting-mindset and into the world of possibility. Once an audience is excited to see what is possible, the formal presentation commences.

My father, who enjoyed a long, storied career as an advertising creative director, tells a great story about presenting to Lee Iacocca that showcases the power of rapport.

Presenting to a larger-than-life CEO like Lee Iacocca is a big deal for any agency. My father’s firm spent about six weeks preparing for the presentation, including several dress rehearsals.  By the time the team landed in Detroit, everyone knew their role and what they were to say.

My father sat waiting for his turn to present. As he mentally rehearsed, he began to doubt that his opening lines were engaging enough. He knew he needed a bold beginning to capture Iacocca’s attention and doubted he had the right approach.  However, he also didn’t know what he could change at the eleventh hour. As he glanced down at his storyboard, a picture of a hotdog stand in one of the frames jumped out—it was an “aha” moment.

Finally, it was Dad’s turn to present. He stood up with storyboard in hand and began to walk through each scene, frame by frame. When he got to the scene with the hotdog stand, he said, “You’ll see that we have a hotdog stand in this shot; a traditional stand with a cart and umbrella—a blank umbrella with no branding.” The entire agency team suddenly went ashen—he’d gone completely off-script and they had no idea where he was heading.

He looked up at Iaccoca and continued, “You’re from Allentown, Pennsylvania and I’m from Brooklyn, New York.  I didn’t know whether to put Nathan’s or Yocco’s logo on the umbrella.  Being a good diplomat, I decided to leave it blank.”

Lee Iacocca cracked a smile, chuckled and said, “Smart decision.”

Iacocca’s uncle had founded a regionally famous hot dog stand in Allentown called Yocco’s. (For those unfamiliar with New York City’s hotdog scene, Nathan’s is the long-time favorite.)  In doing his due diligence about Iacocca, my father was able to make the creative association when he needed it the most.

Iacocca’s demeanor quickly shifted.  He opened up and was much friendlier.  Take a guess whose campaign sold that day.

Building rapport demonstrates that you clearly understand the other person’s point of view.  What makes her tick?  What does she genuinely care about?  If you subtly weave these insights into the conversation, you’ll break down skepticism and lay a foundation of trust.

The good news is that it simply requires doing some homework to find shared interests. With so many digital resources available today, it shouldn’t be difficult to discover attention-grabbing information, which is relevant to your audience.

Identifying where your world intersects with your audience will pay huge dividends. Finding common ground showcases your willingness to develop a human-to-human relationship, which opens the doors of credibility, trust, and respect.

That’s what the power of rapport will do—build credibility, trust, and respect. Once you demonstrate that you understand and appreciate your client’s perspective, the more they’ll believe you have the capacity to understand their customer’s perspective, as well. Now you are on friendlier ground to share and evaluate ideas.

Miles Finch Innovation helps companies navigate the messy territory of corporate innovation. We’re strategic thinking partners who can help you get unstuck and identify creative solutions to your toughest challenges. We also love to train and speak on the subject of Creative Leadership. Email us or call us at 860-799-7505 to learn how we can help you unlock the creative potential of your employees.

Photo: Getty Images / Akindo

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Pat Helmers Interviews Tony Vengrove on Sales Babble Podcast


In this interview, Tony and Pat Helmers explore the intersection of creativity and selling.  Tony references our Idea Climate Equation® to explain why it’s so common for companies and sellers to struggle with embracing new ideas.  He encourages sellers to avoid too much repetition and monotony in their selling routine.  Instead, embrace curiosity and look for creative ways to build rapport and make connections with your audience.

Check out the entire interview at


An Ostentation of Peacocks

By Tony Vengrove


It’s remarkable: as countless authors and bloggers have waxed poetic about innovation the past several years, most ignored the lack of a clear relationship between specific leadership behaviors and innovation. What does it really take to lead innovation in a corporation? There’s not a tremendous amount of consensus on this critical question.

Instead, we’ve been inundated with thousands of philosophical articles about what innovation is and isn’t, or what it takes to “make it happen.” It sounds so simple – implement a process, follow these 10 tips, and out pops a billion dollar new product. Sure thing.

For those of us who work on the frontlines of corporate innovation, these articles may provide some inspiration and insight, but they rarely deliver on “making innovation happen.” Innovating is just not that simple.

And instead of actually delivering any game-changing innovation, these people who brought you all that sure-fire innovation advice are now back proclaiming that what your organization truly needs is to foster “unbridled creativity.” That’s the ticket! Never mind that we didn’t accomplish any innovation.

I hate to sound cynical, but the problem isn’t a lack of creativity, or ideas for that matter. Most employees are dying for the chance to be more creative at work. The challenge is that many senior leaders simply don’t have a toolbox of creative leadership skills to effectively lead innovation and manage their organization’s creativity. You can have the most innovative people on earth working for you, but if your management team flinches at every sign of uncertainty or risk, the ideas will hit a brick wall.

Senior leaders today sit where they are as a result of their superb analytical skills. They’re exceptional at overseeing processes and business systems to consistently deliver financial results while managing risk. These skills are critically important for innovation, but not necessarily at all stages of the process. If an idea in its infancy is bombarded with too much logic, more than likely it will get suffocated.

If a company wants to produce something truly novel, they better learn how to complement their analytical skills with creative leadership abilities, because most disruptive ideas take a lot of time and patience to shape into existence.

Consultants can strut their philosophy like ostentatious peacocks in search of a mate; but let’s be honest, until they help their clients develop the creative leadership skills necessary to create an idea-friendly climate, much of what they offer won’t significantly improve long-term innovation performance.

In the coming weeks, my Idea Climatology blog will focus on Creative Leadership. We’ll dive deep into specific skill areas that all leaders must develop as they pursue an idea-friendly climate. In addition, we’ll introduce an on-going series of interviews with business leaders who will share their perspective about what it takes to lead others in creating and commercializing ideas.

Stay tuned. I think you’ll get tremendous value from this series!

Miles Finch Innovation helps companies navigate the messy territory of corporate innovation. We’re strategic thinking partners who can help you get unstuck and identify creative solutions to your toughest challenges. We also love to train and speak on the subject of Creative Leadership. Email us or call us at 860-799-7505 to learn how we can help you unlock the creative potential of your employees.

Photo: Getty Images/TrulyDeeplyMadly

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Tony Vengrove’s Interview on Business in the Morning

By Tony Vengrove

vengrove Biz in AM

I had a wonderful time talking about innovation and creative leadership on Todd Schnick’s Business in the Morning radio show.

During the course of the interview, we land on a definition of innovation that we all can live with:  “innovation is capturing value from ideas.”  Using Miles Finch Innovation’s Idea Climate Equation® as a guide, we discuss key leadership responsibilities that are critical to fostering a climate that is conducive to creativity and innovation.  The chat concludes with a few tips people can implement immediately to improve their creative leadership skills and to foster a climate that protects and nurtures ideas.

Todd is a great interviewer and I think you’ll enjoy listening to our conversation.  I’d love to hear your feedback!

The Best of Lead with Giants – May 2014

There are some great reads in May’s edition of Best of Lead With Giants.  This

Best_of_LWG_150monthly compilation serves to advocate uplifting leadership and to change lives by showcasing the leadership wisdom of the Lead with Giants community.

This month’s best of includes writing by, Janelle Johnston, Takis Athanassiou, David Dye, Steve Gannon, Martin Webster, Karin Hurt, Walter H Groth, Cynthia Bazin, Dan Forbes, Barry L. Smith, Dino Eliadis, and Jamie Tinker.

We’re happy to be included in such great company!

To learn more about the Lead with Giants community, click here.