(Continued from Part I)
2. “The science/project/idea should stand on its own.” Many a novelist and painter has died poor and bitter having clung to this belief their whole lives. When I tell people that my mother was a successful artist (successful meaning it provided her a living income), most people are amazed. I’m not. She quickly figured out the basics of how to “market” her work. This wasn’t rocket science – she did things like getting the right kind of paintings exposed to the right buyers (e.g. ones with money) at the right time. But, if she had just taken the attitude that “my art should stand on its own” and not done any marketing, I’d probably be stuck supporting her financially right now. The same goes for your project.
3. “Marketing is not an unbiased, independent science, and we want to avoid anything that isn’t rational and logical” – This is perhaps the biggest mistake in thinking you could make when it comes to grant writing. Let me make a bold claim: it is impossible for a reviewer to make an unbiased, independent assessment of your proposal. Let me prove it: nobody can accurately predict the future. Your proposal is about a project that hasn’t been done (or completed) yet. Because of that, nobody can know whether your project is going to be successful or not. When your proposal is weighed against a set of other proposals (for none of which the future can be known), how can your reviewers choose? Certainly not by logic alone, since logic can’t predict the future. Hence, your reviewer is going to rely on something else – intuition, interest, excitement, etc. In other words, the reviewer is relying on those “touchy feely” things, and in order to optimize your chances of success, you have to get him or her excited at an emotional level. This means you have to have a great project – and sell it really well!
You may still object to this notion. You may be someone who just dislikes the whole idea of going out and “marketing” yourself and your work. That is totally fine if you are content with always working for someone else who will do that “marketing” for you. But if you are or want to be an independent leader (e.g. a professor leading a lab, a business owner, etc), you will have to adopt this mindset – or struggle.
I’ll give you one action step that you can start taking immediately, and in the next post, follow up with more action steps.
This is the single most important step you can take: figure out what your “audience/customer” wants, and produce your project to fit what they want. This means emphasizing what your funding agency and reviewers think is important – not what you think is important.
This is really hard. We all think we’re “right.” Whether we are “right” or not doesn’t matter. What matters is that if you butt heads with reviewers, they will always win. They have all the power in the situation. As one mentor of mine has said, “you can be right or you can get paid.” Which is more important to you? You have to make a decision on that point. If you decide that getting paid (i.e. getting money for your project or idea) is more important, then you’ll have to drop the “I’m right” approach.
Instead, you’ll need to figure out how to fit what you want in the context of what your funding agency and reviewers want. This can usually be done using a “piggyback” approach. You satisfy the needs of the agency, and your own ideas come along for the ride. In this approach, you don’t emphasize your own “rightness,” instead, you simply point out that there is this interesting extra thing you plan to do that may give some additional payoff. That way, you transform your idea from a potential liability into a bonus.
I’ve realized that the person I talked to very much held the “I’m right” approach. Most of us have that – especially if we’ve risen to the highest levels of education and training. But at the same time, I know that the lab she works in has struggled for funding. I can say with confidence that if they could drop the “I’m right” approach, they would have far less struggles with funding.
If you’d like to dive more deeply into the concepts here, to double your funding and halve your rejection rate, grab your free “8 concepts of grant writing success” report.