Getting Buy-In for Good Ideas

John Kotter, co-author of the new book Buy-in: Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down says good ideas don’t necessarily gain the support they might logically deserve because too often people forget to present them in a way that appeals to human emotions, like skepticism:

We’ve been taught that once you’ve got a good idea, and you’re convinced it’s a good idea, then it’s just a matter of presenting it in a clear and logical way, and a reasonable group of people will see it. That takes care of that. The reality is that we’re presenting it to human beings, who have anxieties, contrary opinions, and a constant fear of what any interaction might do to their standing in the group. And then stack on top of that a basic skepticism about new ideas.

Kotter says getting support for ideas is one of the most important skills one can learn and use – becuase it’s necessary at any age:

…getting buy-in for good ideas is a basic human issue; it’s a life skill. It’s just as useful to my 19-year-old daughter presenting a solution for a group project at NYU as it is for a 50-year-old executive in a business setting. Dealing with attacks on new ideas is a human challenge that doesn’t seem to be sector specific or age specific. I find that fascinating.

So how can you get peoples’ attention? Kotter suggests asking them to critique the idea:

…how do you get people’s attention so that they understand and then embrace a really good solution to a problem? By letting the lions in, these people inevitably create some fire, some conflict, some drama that draws people’s attention. It’s like a little explosion. Of course, it’s not going to work if you don’t know what to do after everybody’s looking at you.

Once they’re interested and engaged, Kotter says the timing is right for logical responses that address criticisms and show that you’ve thoroughly thought about the idea and know how to make it successful.


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