By Bob Clark
Oct. 21, 2010
Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea from Being Shot Down
By John P. Kotter and Lorne A. Whitehead
Harvard Business Press, Boston
Oct. 2010, 208 pages, $22.00.
We’ve all had a good idea or proposal that never saw the light of day because of a negative attack that killed it. It can be a huge frustration, and this new book by John P. Kotter and Lorne A. Whitehead is a first-rate guide to dealing with such situations.
Kotter and Whitehead are superbly qualified for the task of assembling a book designed to equip people to save their ideas from being pushed aside. Kotter is at Harvard Business School and is one of the foremost authorities on leading change management. Whitehead is Leader of Education Innovation at the University of British Columbia.
The authors develop an amusing narrative about an effort to persuade a fairly large group of citizens to make a significant change in the local public library. With some humor they identify the personalities who are likely to attack an idea in any situation – Pompus Meani, Avoidus Riski and Divertus Attenti to name a few. In the narrative, the four idea-killing approaches usually applied by attackers are identified – fear mongering, delay, confusion and ridicule.
With this background, Kotter and Whitehead explain a methodology designed to thwart the negative attackers while building enthusiasm for your idea. The five-step process they recommend is as follows:
• “Gain people’s attention by allowing the attackers in and letting them attack.”
• “Win the minds of the relevant, attentive audience with simple, clear, and commonsense responses.”
• “Win their hearts by, most of all, showing respect.”
• “Constantly monitor the people whose hearts and minds you need: the broad audience, not the few attackers.”
• “Prepare for these steps in advance, with the ideas in this book.”
About 40 percent of the book is a practical manual that will help you prepare for the inevitable challenges to new ideas. In this how-to section, Kotter and Whitehead develop 24 likely lines of attack that could happen to any new idea. For each attack, they spell out a suggested response and the rationale for it.
The authors have developed a good manual defending any idea or proposal while creating enthusiasm for that idea. Often experienced leaders do this innately, but the book is a much-needed developmental tool for new leaders needing to improve their personal skills.
Bob Clark is the president of RWC Consulting LLC and has more than 30 years’ experience in labor-management relations. He provides consulting help in labor relations and is an adjunct professor at Concordia University in Ann Arbor.