“24 Attacks and 24 Responses” – How Do You Respond To Idea-Killers?

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This topic contains 10 replies, has 5 voices, and was last updated by  Peter Sperry 6 years, 1 month ago.

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  • #145839

    Originally circulated by GovLoop and FCN Board member Bill Brantley – excerpted from Professor John Kotter’s Book Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea From Getting Shot Down. The text below is cut & pasted from Kotter’s website.

    How do you respond to idea-killers?

    _______________

    24 Attacks and 24 Responses

    (Source: Kotter’s website.)

    Here is a list and discussion of the 24 attacks that have been used quite commonly. As you will see, they all draw on one or more strategies based on confusion, fear mongering, death-by-delay, or ridicule and character assassination. There are many more slight variations on these 24, but these two dozen seem to be the most basic and confounding. There is also a response to each of the attacks which will not silence valid criticism, but will help stop verbal bullets from killing good ideas.

    #1 “We’ve been successful, why change?!”

    Attack:

    We’ve never done this in the past and things have always worked out OK.

    Response:

    True. But surely we have all seen that those who fail to adapt eventually become extinct.

    #2 “The only problem is not enough money.”

    Attack:

    Money is the issue, not _____ (computers, product safety, choice of choir songs, etc).

    Response:

    Extra money is rarely what builds truly great ventures or organizations.

    #3 “You exaggerate the problem.”

    Attack:

    You are exaggerating. This is a small issue for us if it is an issue at all.

    Response:

    To the good people who suffer because of this problem, it certainly doesn’t look small.

    #4 “You’re saying we’ve failed??!!”

    Attack:

    If this is a problem, then what you are telling us is that we have been doing a lousy job. That’s insulting!

    Response:

    No, we’re suggesting that you are doing a remarkably good job without the needed tools (systems, methods, laws, etc) which, in our proposal, you will have.

    #5 “What’s the hidden agenda?”

    Attack:

    It’s clear you have a hidden agenda and we would prefer that you take it elsewhere.

    Response:

    Not fair! Just look at the track record of the good folks behind this proposal! (And why would you even suggest such a thing?)

    #6 “What about this, and that, and that (etc.)?”

    Attack:

    Your proposal leaves too many questions unanswered. What about this and that, and this and that, and…

    Response:

    All good ideas, if they are new, raise dozens of questions that cannot be answered with certainty.

    #7 “No good! It doesn’t go far enough” (or, “It goes too far”)

    Attack:

    Your proposal doesn’t go nearly far enough.

    Response:

    Maybe, but our idea will get us started moving in the right direction, and do so without further delay.

    #8 “You have a chicken and egg problem.”

    Attack:

    You can’t do A without doing B, yet you can’t do B without doing A. So the plan won’t work.

    Response:

    Well actually, you can do a little bit of A which allows a little bit of B which allows more A which allows more of B, and so on.

    #9 “Sounds like ‘killing puppies’ to me!”

    Attack:

    Your plan reminds me of a thing disgusting and terrible (insert totalitarianism, organized crime, insanity, or dry rot…)

    Response:

    Look, you know it isn’t like that. A realistic comparison might be…

    #10 “You’re abandoning our values.”

    Attack:

    You are abandoning our traditional values.

    Response:

    This plan is essential to uphold our traditional values.

    #11 “It’s too simplistic to work.”

    Attack:

    Surely you don’t think a few simple tricks will solve everything?

    Response:

    No – it’s the combination of your good work and some new things that, together, can make a great advance.

    #12 “No one else does this!”

    Attack:

    If this is such a great idea, why hasn’t it been done already?

    Response:

    There really is a first time for everything and we do have a unique opportunity.

    #13 “You can’t have it both ways!”

    Attack:

    Your plan says X and Y, but they are incompatible. You can’t have both!

    Response:

    Actually, we didn’t say X or Y—although, I grant you, it may have sounded that way. We said A and B, which are not incompatible.

    #14 “Aha! You can’t deny this!”

    Attack:

    I’m sorry – you mean well, but look at this problem you’ve clearly missed! You can’t deny the significance of this issue!

    Response:

    No one can deny the significance of the issue you have raised, and, yes, we haven’t explored it. But every potential problem we have found so far has been readily solved. So in light of what has happened again and again and again, I am today confident that this new issue can also be handled, just like all the rest.

    #15 “To generate all these questions and concerns, the idea has to be flawed.”

    Attack:

    Look at how many different concerns there are! This can’t be good!

    Response:

    Actually, many the questions mean we are engaged, and an engaged group both makes better decisions and implements them more successfully.

    #16 “Tried it before – didn’t work.”

    Attack:

    We tried that before and it didn’t work.

    Response:

    That was then. Conditions inevitably change [and what we propose probably isn’t exactly what was tried before]

    #17 “It’s too difficult to understand.”

    Attack:

    Too many of our people will never understand the idea and, inevitably, will not help us make it happen.

    Response:

    Not a problem. We will make the required effort to convince them. It’s worth the effort to do so.

    #18 “This is not the right time.”

    Attack:

    Good idea, but it’s the wrong time. We need to wait until this other thing is finished (or this other thing is started, or the situation changes in a certain special way).

    Response:

    The best time is almost always when you have people excited and committed to make something happen. And that’s now.

    #19 “It’s too much work.”

    Attack:

    This seems too hard! I’m not sure we are up for it.

    Response:

    Hard can be good. A genuinely good new idea, facing time consuming obstacles, can both raise our energy level and motivate us to eliminate wasted time.

    #20 “Won’t work here, we’re different!”

    Attack:

    It won’t work here because we are so different.

    Response:

    Yes it’s true, we’re different, but we are also very much the same.

    #21 “It puts us on a slippery slope.”

    Attack:

    You’re on a slippery slope leading to a cliff. This small move today will lead to disaster tomorrow.

    Response:

    Good groups of people—all the time– use common sense as a guard rail to keep them from sliding into disaster.

    #22 “We can’t afford this.”

    Attack:

    The plan may be fine but we cannot do it without new sources of money.

    Response:

    Actually, most important changes are achieved without new sources of money.

    #23 “You’ll never convince enough people.”

    Attack:

    It will be impossible to get unanimous agreement with this plan.

    Response:

    You are absolutely right. That’s almost never possible, and that’s OK.

    #24 “We’re not equipped to do this.”

    Attack:

    We don’t really have the skills or credentials to pull this off!

    Response:

    We have much of what we need and we can and will get the rest.
  • #145859

    Peter Sperry
    Participant

    Outstanding post. The first thing you need to do, before responding to an idea killer, is determine the “attacker’s” intent. Many of your most ardent supporters will be the ones who raise critical questions that need to be addressed before the idea is ready for prime time. Others simply like to spike very new idea that comes along. Getting to know the managers and executives in your organization will help you learn who falls into which catagory. Take your ideas to the first group early and use their feedback to prepare for your eventual confrontations with the second.

  • #145857

    How about –

    1 – “It’s not your job to worry about that.”

    2 – “Do you have data to back that up? Your intuition doesn’t mean anything.”

    3 – “That’s not how the government does things.”

    4 – “You don’t know everything that’s going on, or you wouldn’t suggest that.”

    5 – “Let’s put that in the parking lot (the garage, the back burner, etc.) and get back on topic.”

    6 – “Technology can’t solve everything, you know?”

    7 – “How can you even suggest such a thing?”

    8 – “They will never agree to that” or “IT will never allow that.”

    9 – “Don’t you think you’re being a little negative?”

    10 – “Just because you saw a good presentation at a conference doesn’t mean it can work here.”

  • #145855

    Chris Poirier
    Participant

    Agree on identification of “intent.” Remember, some folks are just stacking up things that need to be risk managed as you move forward. I often get attacked for my “attacks” as people take my comments as a position of not wanting to adapt, when I actually usually take the role of risk manager. Some attacks may be “true” and need to be managed instead of ignored or “defeated”. When this happens, failure sneaks up on success after the fact because it was not properly managed.

  • #145853

    Peter Sperry
    Participant

    1 – “It’s not your job to worry about that.”

    Response — “Whose job is it? I would be happy to share the idea with the right person.”

    2 – “Do you have data to back that up? Your intuition doesn’t mean anything.”

    Response — ‘Good point. I have gathered some preliminary data. What other research should I complete before moving forward?”

    3 – “That’s not how the government does things.”

    Response — “I’ve researched the statutes, regulations and organizational policies. There is noting that says we can’t do this.” Or “I’ve researched the statutes, regulations and organizational policies. All we need is a waiver or approval from _______. I have prepared a memo explaining why they should agree.” (Funniest meeting I was ever in was when a Major General in the Corps of Engineers blew up in frustration and exclaimed it would “take an act of Congress” for him to be able to move forward on a project. The Congressman replied that he had assumed that was the case and had called the meeting to get input on drafting the act. The bill was enacted into law 10 months later.)

    4 – “You don’t know everything that’s going on, or you wouldn’t suggest that.”

    Response — “You may be right about that. Can you fill in the blanks for me or suggest some sources of background information?”

    5 – “Let’s put that in the parking lot (the garage, the back burner, etc.) and get back on topic.”

    Response — (at the end of the meeting) — “We put several ideas in the parking lot. Lets either deal with them now or schedule a followup meeting to properly consider them.”

    6 – “Technology can’t solve everything, you know?”

    Response — “You are absolutely correct, so doesn’t it make sense to fully leverage technology when it CAN solve a problem?”

    7 – “How can you even suggest such a thing?”

    Response — “That is a non-responsive critique. Why wouldn’t I suggest it?”

    8 – “They will never agree to that” or “IT will never allow that.”

    Response — “We will never know what “they” will agree to until we ask.” and “I hadn’t intended to tell IT until it is too late for them to get in the way.” (I normally do not endorse breaking protocol since there are actually more ways to work WITHIN the system than people realize; but I will make an exception if the idea has to go through the IT demons.)

    9 – “Don’t you think you’re being a little negative?”

    Response — “offering a solution to an obvious problem is positive, not negative”

    10 – “Just because you saw a good presentation at a conference doesn’t mean it can work here.”

    Response — “Possibly not, but we’ll never know unless we try.”

  • #145851

    Jay Johnson
    Participant

    I’m a huge fan of Dr. Kotter and his work. He visited our organization last year.

    http://www.navsea.navy.mil/Newswire2010/25MAR10-06.aspx

  • #145849

    Julie Chase
    Participant

    #8 is the one! Battle has been lost due to regulation/directive XXGGO of the NAVSUP that reads para 2. section 4, dated 1982.

    <suddenly, the Darth Vader theme is running through my head>

    So NO, been there, done that, got rejected.

    If you “don’t” get an audience with IT “before” you purchase anything IT related, your audit will not be pleasant. Kentucky is a very pretty state, but I wouldn’t want to be “forced” to live there. They want the approval papers.

    What about the “The Paper Reduction Act”?? My last act of a desparate innovator, as my pink light saber begins to fade.

    I know in other agencies you all can go hog wild and buy everything from laptops to blackberries that can take take pictures of a book on the ground at 30,000 ft…..not here. By the way…..there is a big stink about those blackberries and IPads….and a call to turn them in to “save” money. Hey, don’t shoot the messenger……..

    Yes, folks, remember, it’s about the “process”.

    End of meeting………….I’ll go back to my desk now, everything is fine, nothing to see here.

  • #145847

    On a related topic…Check this contest out:

    “The Beyond Bureaucracy Challenge:
    Creating Inspired, Open & Free Organizations

    Submit a Hack a disruptive idea, radical fix, or experimental design) or a Story (a real-world case study of a single practice, an initiative, or a broad-based transformation) on the subject of making organizations more inspiring and engaging, developing an outside-in orientation, and/or managing without managers.”

    http://www.managementexchange.com/m-prize/beyond-bureaucracy-challenge-creating-inspired-open-free-organizations

  • #145845

    Peter Sperry
    Participant

    Yes, if all else fails, you may have to deal with the IT demons. Make friends with the techs and the programmers who are an end user’s best friend and they will help supply the garlic, holy water and stakes needed to take on the enterprise architects, program managers and other IT governance vampires.

  • #145843

    Julie Chase
    Participant

    Ah Mr. Sperry, total brilliance…….”if only” it were that easy.

    “Techs & Programmers” are dare I say, shhhh…..”contractors”. Ok, I said it. The techs & programmers are just one tier above me, the govie end user. They do exactly what the “contract” dictates, no more, no less. While pleasant and offering fairly good customer service, alas, they have no power. They are among the brightly colored shells on the beach of IT. They politely listen on the other end of the phone, while we the “end user” vent to them our troubles.

    “Enterpise architects and program managers”,….again “contractors” with a few govie IT GS9’s and 11’s thrown in for extra measure. All held “accountable” to the “contract”.

    The govie IT are just as rigid to the “process” and dislike it as much as the govie end user. There are so few of them because “the powers that be” decided that IT was not an inheritely government function. I disagree, but who am I? Hence what the meetings are about.

    Moving up the food chain we have ITPRAS, kind of like the Magesterium in the Catholic Church, these folks interpret what is secure or not secure. Their scrutiny of the paperwork submitted can mean the difference between getting your IT software/hardware or not.

    Here is where it ends for the end user as we don’t really know “who” is above this level. My guess would be DoD “some committee” or group that wrote the instruction, who are as far removed from the end user as Congress is from “the people”.

    In the end, if you were lucky enough to receive the IT needed to move your mission “forward”, a month or two later, the end user receives an email from…..yeah, you guessed it, “a contractor” letting you know that your software is now “officially” registered. Yeah, erm, uh, ok, I guess.

    There are many lessions learned from this. I think Dannielle is right on bringing the post to life. In each of 24, there is an organization butting heads with ? to move gov forward. I’d admire those who are in it for the long haul. I put myself there because I believe there is someone out there who will listen & involve the “end user”.

  • #145841

    @Julie,

    I think the point Peter makes very well, though he doesn’t say it outright, is that often resistance is not logical but rather political. Not in the sense of Democrat or Republican but rather in the sense of keeping a certain power structure intact. When people come in to suggest a new or different way of doing things, this is an attack on the power structure. So even if the idea is solid, the consequence of implementing it might be perceived as “you win – I lose.”

    I am recalling a discussion on GovLoop once – “would you submit an idea if it meant a negative outcome on your job”? Which of course is a very difficult choice. Should you protect yourself, or should you serve the mission?

    A similar question – “would you be a backstabber if it meant saving your own skin?” And you can be a backstabber by commission (actively) or omission (passively)…just letting someone else fry so that you can look good.

    At the end of the day we have to make our choices, and they are not always easy. But even if you yourself try to do the right thing, you will encounter people who have absolutely no problem doing the wrong thing, justifying their behavior, and demonizing you. The question is, how do you navigate that reality successfully?

    And so I think the concept of finding allies and working diplomatically and within a coalition is very smart – no matter how smart you are, you can’t go it alone

    Even if you’re installed at the very top of the heap and have the magic wand with which to create the change you seek, if you don’t win over the people in the organization, it is likely that your tenure will be very short.

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