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.
The first third of the book presents this method in the form of a story - a story that focuses on a small band of individuals comprising a citizen's advisory committee in defense of an idea before a crowd of seventy-five individuals over a span of a few hours time. The authors point out, however, that there are obviously many different settings in which this story could have taken place, and they believe that the method used to defend the idea is the best regardless of situation. The second part of the book provides an analysis of this story, and later provides twenty-four responses to twenty-four attacks that will not silence valid criticism but will stop the killing of good ideas by verbal bullets.
Kotter and Whitehead are careful to point out that many of these attacks might be innocently raised by individuals who are not explicitly trying to kill the objects of the attacks, but this does not mean that they are any easier to wrestle. In outlining their method following the case study story, this reviewer was especially influenced by the assertion that overcoming attacks with tons of data, or logic and more logic, should not be attempted, and that the opposite should be the goal. This reviewer could not help being reminded by the Seinfeld episode where character George Costanza is influenced by character Jerry Seinfeld when he said "If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right". Of course, the authors are not proposing that this blind philosophy should be followed, but it is probably closer than one might think.
The authors categorize the four types of attacks as confusion, fear mongering, death by delay, or ridicule and character assassination, and they indicate that it helps the idea generator to realize that attacks boil down to this small number because individuals often get bogged down by weighty lists that try to be comprehensive but end up being unmanageable. The twenty-four attacks and responses are grouped according to the implicit attitude of the attacker, which are essentially (1) the problem the idea generator is attempting to solve does not exist, so the idea is not needed, (2) the problem that is being presented admittedly exists, but the solution being proposed by the idea generator is not very good, and (3) the problem does indeed exist, and the solution that the idea generator proposes might actually be a good one, but it will not work in the case at hand. Well recommended text. The book is laid out well, focused, and lacks the tangents that so many texts seem to possess.