Buy-in - another book from Kotter

All ideas of any magnitude, from around the family table on up to the boardroom table, will be attacked.  How you (as the proponent) react will take your idea to the bank, or leave it crushed underfoot. 

I seem to be on a kick of late.  This is my third book from John Kotter (with Lorne Whitehead this time): Buy-In: saving your good idea from getting shot down that just came out this fall.  I read a copy from the library, but I have also decided to purchase a copy for use as reference - that's probably a recommendation already.  Lots of lists in this post for some reason.

Buy-In has a fairly straightforward theme.  In order to "save your good idea," you need to do a couple things. 

  • Most important: Be Prepared.  It has to be a truly good idea, not just something that sounds interesting.  The other part of preparation has to do with the rest of the concept: be prepared for any attack that your idea might get.  The bigger the idea, the more preparation for potential attacks. 
  • Next, invite in the people who are likely to attack your idea - you ignore them at your peril. 
  • And, finally, when they attack, treat everyone with respect and respond with relatively simple and truthful statements.  Don't respond with explanations and facts and figures.  Don't join the argument with them.

That's the basic process.  The other part of the book has to do with the categorization of attacks and a catalog of 24 specific attacks and a simple response associated with each one.  The attacks can be categorized in several ways: what the attack tries to do; what is motivating the attacker; and what the attacker thinks about the idea.  There is a difference. 

In the first grouping, the categorization is based on how the attack tries to derail the idea.  This element seems to be getting the most play in publicity I have seen for the book:

  1. Instill fear in the others in the room.  Make it appear that that idea will create something that people don't want or remember as a poor experience in the past.
  2. Create death by delay.  "We need a committee" or other tactics that might force the proposal back into study phase, rather than implementation.
  3. Divert attention from the idea.  Bring up other ideas or tangents that will draw time and attention away from the idea at hand.  At the very least, this will create delay, if not outright killing the idea.
  4. Attack the person, rather than the idea.  Some attacks are about the person making the proposal, either directly (you don't know what you are doing) to more subtle attacks.

The next way to categorize is to think about the attacks based on characterization of the people doing the attack.  What is their motivation?  Why are they attacking in this particular way, with this language?  Kotter & Whitehead have come up with eight "characters," but they all make sense from the "Pompus Meani" to "Spaci Cadetus" in terms of a way to classify the attacks.  Kotter's website even has a game to play with the eight characters, Buy-In Character Game.

The last way to categorize the attacks is by what the attacker is thinking about the idea:

  • The problem doesn't exist, so the idea is not needed.
  • The problem exists, but the idea won't resolve the problem.
  • The problem exists and the idea is good, but it won't work here.

This categorization might sound familiar to anyone in the Theory of Constraints community.  There is a parallel to the "layers of resistance" model that I've mentioned before.  Note that the first two parallel the two that Kotter proposes.  And the last item have to do with #4 and #5 - negative ramifications and obstacles.  

  1. We agree on the problem.
  2. We agree on the direction of the solution.
  3. We agree that the solution solves the problem.
  4. We agree that we can overcome any potential negative ramifications.
  5. We agree that the obstacles to implementation can be overcome.
  6. We commit to move forward.

Of course, the goal of any proposed change is to get commitment to move forward, not just a bunch of head nods or a "yeah, okay.  We'll do it your way."  That isn't commitment and that is a sure way to have the idea not take root.  One of the things that Kotter emphasizes is that commitment is more that acquiescence or 51% of a vote.  It is a substantial majority agreeing to the idea.  And the suggestion throughout the book is that the simple process of being prepared, inviting attacks, and treating everyone with respect is the way to get there.

The Kotter International website for Buy-In has a lot of the resources in the book freely available.  This includes the 24 Attacks and 24 Responses that form the centerpiece of the book in terms of the categorizations I describe above. 

1 Comment(s)

Jack Vinson Author Profile Page said:

Kotter appeared on an HBR IdeaCast in October 2010, talking about this book. The ten minute interview covers the basic ideas of the book that I've highlighted above.

http://blogs.hbr.org/video/2010/10/how-to-stop-good-ideas-from-ge.html

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