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Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down Hardcover – October 6, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

John P. Kotter is the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus, at Harvard Business School and is widely considered the world's foremost authority on leadership and change. Lorne A. Whitehead is Leader of Education Innovation at the University of British Columbia, where he has also been a professor and the NSERC/3M Chairholder in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


Most people skip Prefaces (occasionally feeling guilty as they do so) because they are not particularly interested in an introduction to a book, its history, any research behind it, or the writers. If you are a skipper, just flip to page 13. And don’t feel guilty.

We have all experienced the basic problem addressed here, and in a very personal way, because it is an old, common, human, and increasingly important problem. You need sufficient support for a good idea or the right decision will not be accepted and implemented well. You or your allies present the plan. You present it well. Then, along with thoughtful issues being raised, come the confounding questions, inane comments, and verbal bullets—either directly at you or, even worse, behind your back. It matters not that the idea clearly makes sense. It matters not that the idea is needed, insightful, innovative, and logical. It matters not even if the issues involved are extremely important to a business, an individual, or even a nation. The proposal is still shot down, accepted but without sufficient support to gain all of its true benefits, or slowly dies a sad death.

You’ve been there, both on and off the job. It can be maddening. You can end up flustered, embarrassed, or furious. All those who would benefit from the idea lose. You lose. In an extreme case, a whole company or nation may lose. And, as we shall demonstrate in this book, it doesn’t have to be that way.

The argument put forth here, summarized simply, is this:

1. The competent creation and implementation of good ideas is a basic life skill, relevant to the 21 year old college graduate, the 55 year old corporate CEO, and virtually everyone else. This skill, or the lack of it, affects the economy, governments, families, and most certainly our own lives. This point may be obvious, but less obvious are two additional points. First, the amount of thought and education put into making good decisions is far higher today than the knowledge and instruction on how to implement those ideas. In the world of business, for example, the field of strategy has made huge advances in the past twenty years. The field of strategy implementation, in contrast, has made much less progress. Second, and even more overlooked, is that our insufficient knowledge about how to get good new ideas accepted by others—a central piece of making anything happen--is becoming more and more of a problem as the world changes faster and faster.
2. Change is one of the most powerful forces shaping everything in the world in which we live. With change swirling around us, we need to change more often, which demands good ideas---ideas in the form of plans, proposals, or strategies. But, more so, we need effective action that can make those ideas be used. This is true regardless of the issue: from pitching an idea to obtain modest resources to exploring an innovative new product area to changing the health care system in the U.S. And one of the steepest walls which stop us from making increasingly needed ideas happen is the buy-in obstacle.
3. It would be wonderful if the good ideas you have, on or off the job, could simply stand on their own. But far too often, this is not the case. Whether it’s a big bill before Congress, an innovative corporate strategy, or tonight’s plan for dinner and the movies, sensible ideas can be ignored, shot down, or, more often, wounded so badly that they produce little gain. A wounded idea might still get 51% of the relevant heads nodding approval. But when true buy-in is thin, the smallest of obstacles can eventually derail a supposedly agreed-upon proposal.
4. The questions, concerns, and arguments that wound or kill truly good ideas may seem to be limitless, but for all practical purposes they are not. There are a few dozen arguments used against good ideas that are very generic in their form, can be used in virtually any setting, and can be very powerful. There are also a set of generic responses, all based on a single, somewhat counterintuitive method, that can build strong support for good ideas, regardless of the setting (on or off the job) or the scale of the issues (trying to get buy-in for a new corporate strategy or for a clever proposal to spend $100).
5. Although much has been written on buy-in or related topics (persuasion, communication), the method we offer here, and the 24 very specific responses to 24 common generic attacks, have a power and efficiency (buy-in achieved for resources used) that may be unique, and thus of great potential use to those pursuing innovation, strategy implementation, or simply trying to get one good idea accepted by an after-work, pick-up basketball team. In a world in which we all have limited time and economic resources, unusual power and efficiency can mark the difference between what is practical and what is not, between what creates success and what does not.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press; 1 edition (October 6, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1422157296
  • ISBN-13: 978-1422157299
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (109 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #448,947 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Kevin L. Nenstiel TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
If you ever lend a hand at PTA meetings, church, volunteer groups, or wherever good new ideas are most needed, you know how often important ideas die quietly. Kotter and Whitehead know this too, and they want to help you guide new ideas through resistance so those who need them can hear them. Though this book comes from a business press, more than just business people need what lies between these covers.

Kotter and Whitehead point out that most resistance comes not from the crowd who votes on your idea, but from a few heel-draggers. You need not to persuade this small, vocal minority, who are largely set in their ways, but to answer their objections in a way that wins the hearts and minds of your silent audience. Once you accomplish that, you have begun to win support for your idea, or at least to get it heard.

To do that, you must recognize the core attack, and how it can be deferred without sinking to your opponents' level. Kotter and Whitehead distill routine snipes and grouches into four basic angles, and twenty-four basic attacks. If you can grasp what method your opponents use, and why, you can defuse tedious baseless resistance and keep your idea in play. And if it stays in play, it has a chance of a fair hearing.

This book is not a complete rhetoric for ideological disputes. It will not teach you how to bolster weak ideas, repair flawed ideas, or defend bad ideas. It focuses on how heel-draggers quietly kill even the best ideas, and how you can keep that from happening to you. Even if you don't work in the high-stakes business world, study this book if you ever float ideas. Hey, it's better than burying one before it's truly dead!
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
QUICK SUMMARY: This brief, read-it-in-a-day book identifies four general ways your good ideas get shot down, and it offers ways on how to effectively deflect challenges that arise when you present your ideas. The book is brief -- too brief -- and left me wishing it had more and better-developed content and examples of the authors' strategies put to use.

BACKGROUND: I'm a big John Kotter fan. I was introduced to him in my graduate studies in leadership, so I jumped at the chance to read and review his new book. But I was somewhat disappointed in this book because I kept thinking of ways I'd have liked this book improved. It's okay, not great, not as good as Kotter's Leading Change book.


- Extremely easy to read and understand. I finished reading the entire book in 24 hours, and I'm a very slow, methodical reader.
- Identifies four general approaches that others use to sabotage your ideas, and offers helpful strategies for defending against those approaches.
- The authors used a story format for the first half of the book, reminiscent of what Patrick Lencioni did in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable. I enjoyed the story in this book, but the storyline in Buy-In isn't nearly as engaging or as well-written as the storyline in Lencioni's book.
- The over-arching message is easy: always show respect to others (always!) and be prepared for how people may try to subvert your ideas. Simple (to remember).
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In their preface to this book, authors Kotter and Whitehead succinctly present the challenge of implementing good ideas. The amount of thought and education put into the creation of good ideas today often outweighs the knowledge and instruction on implementing those very ideas. For example, the field of strategy has made huge advances in the last twenty years, but the field of strategy implementation has made far less progress. It would be great if good ideas that one champions on and off the job could simply stand on their own, but unfortunately this is not the case far too often. The authors remind the reader that this book is not about persuasion, general communication skills, or all the methods one might use to create buy-in.

The single method presented here to build support for a good idea is rarely used (or at least used well) and does not necessitate extraordinary rhetorical skills or charisma. The ideas that the authors offer are partially based on observations of Lorne Whitehead over the years as an entrepreneur, executive, administrator, and professor at the University of British Columbia, as well as the continuous research being conducted by John Kotter at Harvard Business School and the body of knowledge on the topics of leadership and change that has been published in several of his past works. According to the authors, the method they present is counterintuitive because it shows respect for all and uses simple, clear responses that can turn attacks to one's advantage because it focuses on capturing attention and eventually building buy-in.
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