I just read John Kotter’s new book “Buy In: Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down.” One of the hazards of reading the Harvard Business Blogs is that they have a number of enticing books they promote on the site. Although I have piles of un- or half-read business books in my home and work offices, I couldn’t resist. After all, who doesn’t want more people to say, “Yes” to his or her idea?
Before I get to the content, I have to say that Kotter and Whitehead did a great job writing this business advice book as a story. That’s right, they wrote it as one continuous story, rather than strictly as advice or in scenarios. Then they analyzed the story. It’s a smart technique and one that makes the book easier and more interesting to read.
This book is not about creating good ideas, or fighting for your idea in competition with others. No, this book is about presenting your ideas to groups who have the power to shoot it down without offering anything better in return. Anyone who works in any type of corporate atmosphere (big or small) or has to sell their ideas to client groups or any other type of committee will recognize the story.
It’s unfortunate that we have a world filled with people who get juiced by saying “No.” Ego, power and personal dysfunction keep a lot of good ideas from coming to life. “Buy In” offers descriptions and strategies for deflecting criticisms without turning off your supporters.
The authors offer 24 basic attacks on ideas. They include examples such as:
- What about this, and that, and this and that
- Sounds like something [most people dislike] to me
- No one else does this!
- It sounds too simplistic to work
- We tried it before and it didn’t work
If you’re like me, you’ve heard a lot of these before. Most of us would just like to shoot the smug, self-absorbed twits who throw these in our way. Perhaps the best advice in the book is how to NOT take these questions personally but how to respond with the utmost respect. Hey, no one said it would be easy.
I think this book is a worthwhile read if you have to present to, and get approval from, people who have little understanding and insight as to what you’re proposing. At some point I did have the feeling that the advice was a little manipulative but on further reflection I realized that the problems in the book describe a particular, and important, point in time. But it’s a point where a lot of good thinking (not to mention time) can go down the drain due to someone else’s personal agenda.
Now, to put this into practice…