You’re Not Competing for Money: You’re Competing for the Ideological High Ground

The ideological high ground is one of the favorite competition fields in Washington and, believe it or not, in the real world as well.  For example, in sales, companies compete for the ideological high ground every day, and if you’re trying to get to them, you must be able to demonstrate why what you’re trying to sell them will help them achieve that goal.

What is the ideological high ground? Former presidential candidate Michele Bachmann found it during a Congressional debate on the very important issue of compact fluorescent lightbulbs. She managed to bring the House of Representatives to a standstill in her efforts to stop implementation of a Bush administration policy to provide incentives for manufacturing fluorescent light bulbs that was supported by both industry groups and environmentalists.  She did this by arguing that the government should have no role in determining light bulb use, saying,

I think Thomas Edison did a pretty patriotic thing for this country by inventing the lightbulb. And I think that if you want to buy Thomas Edison’s wonderful invention, you should be able to!

Tea Party activists and others interested in smaller government applauded her efforts and the issue became symbolic of the overall concerns about the reach of government (somewhat ironically, because the initial policy came from the Bush administration, small-government proponents).  The policy was rejected in part because Rep. Bachmann had captured the ideological high ground.

In fact, capturing the ideological high ground can help you win other battles over the competition, so think carefully about whether you can do so.  Some strategies for doing so include:

  • Know enough about the audience to know what’s most important to them — and focus on that
  • Be able to answer the questions “why should this issue appeal to the hearts and minds of decision makers?” — not why you care about it
  • Assess the environment (political, economic, sociological and otherwise) to find out what messages will resonate
  • See what other successful influencers are saying and, while you don’t want to copy them, figure out if you can learn lessons from how they approach the issue.



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