Book Review

Buy In

Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down

by John P. Kotter and Lorne A. Whitehead, Harvard Business Review Press, Boston, Mass., 2010, 176 pp., $22 hardcover


Have you ever had the best idea in the world — you know, an idea sure to bring great change and success for your organization, an idea so great you can’t wait to share it with your peers and staff? But once you deliver your stellar concept to colleagues, you find yourself facing a barrage of picky questions, silent stares, and veiled or direct threats of why your idea is all wrong. Your great idea is dying before your very eyes.

Buy In

According to John P. Kotter and Lorne A. Whitehead in Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea From Getting Shot Down, it doesn’t have to be this way. While they don’t offer the sweet taste of revenge you might be craving, they do present a practical way to save your good ideas and garner support.

While the first section walks the reader through a fictional narrative in a town hall setting that provides a presentation and defense of an idea, school leaders will be more interested in the second half of the book. Kotter and Whitehead propose the key to saving your ideas from being stymied is to first understand the four not-so-nice attack strategies that critics implement every time: death by delay; confusion; fear mongering; and character assassination. The authors provide effective responses.

From classic attacks such as “We tried this before and it didn’t work” to “We can’t afford this,” Kotter and Whitehead offer a brief and practical response to many of the barriers we face in leadership.

Unlike some views on persuasion and communication strategies that might suggest avoidance or leveraging support against opposing viewpoints, the authors’ approach involves bringing our critics into the discussion and encouraging them to attack. Standing our ground and addressing the issues with respect and providing clear, common-sense responses allow one to garner the needed attention of the audience while improving their views on an idea, which ultimately leads to buy-in.

Reviewed by Lane B. Mills, associate professor of educational leadership, East Carolina University, Greenville, N.C.