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Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down

August 15, 2012 Book Reviews, Managing Change No Comments
Bob’s Rating
Book Reviews


“Buy-in” by John P. Kotter and Lorne A. Whitehead, is a much needed resource. Originally a financial term, getting people’s buy-in is today taken to mean “getting someone’s commitment” to a new idea or proposal. Getting others to commit to a new idea, whether it be family, friends or in business, is an essential skill-set that everyone should have. It’s surprising that this topic has not been covered before.

The authors set out to provide a method for building support for a good idea. As they say, the method is counterintuitive in a number of ways. Firstly, it suggests getting the biggest naysayers into the room, not keeping them out – for me this is the biggest plus of their method. The others, “not using a power base or powerful personality”, “treating people with respect” and not responding to attacks with “logical lists of reasons, reasons, reasons”, are common sense.

Part One of the book describes a situation where you as the reader, are responding to attacks in a public meeting. It’s a nice case study, well written easy to follow and gives good examples of how the method is used. It’s also a good way of introducing us to the four categories the authors use to describe these attacks – confusion, death by delay, fear mongering, ridicule and character assassination. They also suggest that within these four categories, there are at least 24 attacks that people can make.

Part Two explains the method, why it works and how to respond to each of the 24 types of attack.

I found this a difficult book to review. It has some great ideas and concepts, yet at times I found it a little confusing and at least to me, in places contradictory.

The simple five-part method for responding to attacks on your idea, is sound and easy to follow. I would have found it easier to remember the five points if they had been explained in the same words whenever they were described. In fact they are described in a number of different ways. For example in one chapter in Part Two, they are first described in the negative and in the summary to that chapter, in the positive (this is the description that I feel should have been used throughout the book).

Of the five points in their method, the most striking (and most counterintuitive) is getting the naysayers in, not keeping them out. Reading the authors’ examples, this makes a lot of sense. Most of the examples given, show ways of dealing with the naysayers as they present their attack during meetings – very useful when faced with such attacks. An important point, that is merely mentioned in passing, is that it would be ideal to get to the naysayers first before presenting your idea to others – have them shoot some holes in it, so that you overcome their objections first, and in the process, gain them as allies rather than antagonists. I feel this is a point that could have been reinforced more, as it has a major impact on the way one plans for a meeting or situation that is likely to involve conflict.

I could not find any discussion of handling emotional attacks as opposed to attacks purely using logic. This may have been a useful addition to the method.

Where I found some contradictions in the book, are the examples given of how to use the method to handle each of the 24 types of attack. For example, in Attack No. 5 in response to the attack the authors suggest “Surely you are not suggesting that (highly respected) Barry is lying to us about his motives.” The authors go on to say “Served lightly and with no disrespect, an honestly sceptical person will think ‘good point,’ and back away.” If this were said to me I would take it as countermanding their “Win their hearts by, most of all showing respect.”

Similarly in response to Attack No. 9 the authors suggest “Look, you know it isn’t like that” and “Let’s be sensible” (inferring perhaps that the attacker is not).

Despite these criticisms, the book is a useful resource for all of us who have to face attackers who regularly put down our ideas. My suggestion as you read this book, is to write out the five parts of the method in your own words (page 102). Then, keep this handy as you read and decide how you would apply each of these in your own situation. Keep checking to see that your responses are in line with the method (at times they may be quite different to the examples given).


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