6 steps to saving your good ideas

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Brand managers: Don't let your idea die
Brand managers: Don't let your idea die

Defuse the death-by-delay attack strategy and protect your good ideas.

You have a great idea that you know will make a critical difference for your brand or your company. You present your idea and expect to receive enthusiastic support. Instead, you find yourself subjected to confounding questions and inane comments. Before you can catch your breath, your good idea is shot down and left for dead. But it doesn't have to be this way.

In their book, Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down, John Kotter and Lorne Whitehead describe 4 attack strategies designed to kill your good ideas. Fortunately, the authors reveal ways to protect these ideas and win the support needed to deliver valuable results. Their techniques are easy to use and highly effective. I know, because I've been able to successfully defuse my favorite attack strategy—death by delay--by following the authors' suggestions.

A practitioner of the death-by-delay strategy will make a suggestion that seems logical, but which in actuality can cause an idea or project to miss its window of opportunity. Death-by-delay tactics can force so many meetings that one can lose momentum and be left feeling frustrated.

Here's an example of death by delay in action:

  • A meeting is scheduled to discuss the final stages of a project that is due to be rolled out in one week
  • During the meeting, various points are tweaked and consensus is achieved. The group confirms the implementation date
  • Before the meeting ends, a participant brings up one point that hadn't been discussed by the group. The person suggests that a task force be created to examine the issue
  • On the surface, the suggestion appears reasonable. Look closer, though, and you'll see that it's just a stalling tactic, allowing the person with the concern to appear cooperative and well-meaning when he or she is actually introducing the kind of late-stage objection that might require so much sorting-out time that a proposal would become irrelevant or unfeasible
  • The suggestion, if carried out, might bring about numerous additional meetings that would delay the implementation of your good idea until after the rollout date
  • Since no one knows how to defuse the death-by-delay tactic, the participants may leave the meeting feeling discouraged or demoralized because they realize their project will now stall in committee 

So, how can you counter the death-by-delay attack on your good idea?

Kotter and Whitehead say that avoiding or attempting to quash attackers doesn't work. According to their counterintuitive approach, it's far better to respectfully engage your adversaries and stand your ground with simple, convincing responses that move your idea forward. Here's how:

  1. Invite the death-by-delay practitioner into the discussion and encourage him or her to go after you
  2. The confrontation will increase the drama factor—resulting in all attention being focused on you. When people are paying attention, their minds become engaged and you can gain their buy-in
  3. Keep your responses simpleclearcrisp, and full of common sense
  4. Show your adversary respect at all times. Don't argue or become defensive
  5. Don't get distracted by the death-by-delay adversary or by the tactics that he or she employs.  Focus instead on the other people in the room, since they are the ones you are trying to influence
  6. Anticipate and prepare for likely death-by-delay attacks in advance

Because it is so easy to use, death by delay is a tactic available to anyone, which makes it particularly effective for derailing a project. The tactic is designed—whether wittingly or not—to slow down communication and possibly to end it altogether. But this doesn't have to be the outcome. By following these 6 simple steps, you will be able to defuse the attack and gain buy-in for your good idea.

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