How to Keep Your Good Idea from Being Shot Down

Have you ever found yourself frustrated because you have a good idea that doesn’t go anywhere? No matter how big or small the idea, we’ve all faced this at some point. After reading John Kotter’s book Buy In — Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down, I thought it would help to share some of his strategies to “save” good ideas.

Take stock.

Start with being crystal clear about your idea. Can you explain your idea in a short elevator ride? If not, you need to distill it down to the essential elements and keep it simple. Don’t let yourself get bogged down in giving so much context or justification for your idea that you lose your audience in the details. Think about the basics of what they need to know.

Next, think about who might support the idea, and which likely supporters you should talk to about the idea before sharing it more broadly. During my years at Deloitte Consulting, this strategy was invaluable for getting buy-in and for identifying potential attacks, and from whom they might come. Remember to think about how you can engage your supporters to respond to naysayers, and ask them about when and how you should communicate to key stakeholders. If you do it right, the decision-making meeting should be a non-event — because you had all the right meetings before the meeting.

Finally, role-play the meeting or conversation in advance, anticipating and responding to attacks or objections. Sometimes it can really help to have someone brainstorm with you.

Anticipate the four basic attack strategies.

Although the book lists 28 attack strategies, at the core they are all about the following four basic attack strategies:

  1. Fear mongering – This strategy aims at raising anxieties of the group to prevent a thoughtful examination of the idea. It gets people responding irrationally and emotionally.

  2. Death by delay – You may have experienced this frustrating strategy first hand. This is where so many meetings or steps are proposed that you completely miss the window of opportunity for the idea.

  3. Confusion – This tactic muddies the water with irrelevant facts, convoluted logic, or so many alternatives that a productive dialogue gets stalled.

  4. Ridicule and character assassination – This is what I call playing dirty, whether it’s through verbal or nonverbal communication. The attacker may raise questions about your competence or preparation, redirecting the conversation away from the idea itself.

Develop your responses in advance.

So, what should you do to respond to these attack strategies? In a nutshell, Kotter recommends doing the unexpected, taking the high road, and staying focused. Here are the four elements he suggests you integrate into your response.

  1. Let attackers into the discussion and let them go after you. Kotter suggests doing this because it gets people’s attention. Without their attention, you won’t have a chance to explain the issue or your proposed solution.

  2. Keep your responses clear, simple, crisp, and full of common sense. Don’t get mired in explaining all the logic and facts, which can make any audience glaze over.

  3. Show respect constantly. Don’t fight or collapse or become defensive. By treating others with respect, you draw an audience emotionally to your side, where they are more likely to listen carefully and sympathetically.

  4. Focus on the whole audience. Don’t be distracted by the detractors.

Remember that it’s about winning the hearts and minds of the majority, not the minority.

At the end of the day, it’s all about preparation. You can use these concepts to prepare before you pitch any idea – no matter how big or small because the basic approach is sound. Just don’t try to wing it, even if your idea seems bulletproof or you expect a friendly audience. A few minutes of preparation can go a long way.