Posts Tagged ‘John Kotter’

I was listening to Canadian Education Association CEO, Ron Canuel, recently and he referenced John Kotter, a professor at the Harvard Business School. It was a name I knew, but I hadn’t previously been exposed to his work. Canuel shared Kotter’s list of the four strategies people use to help kill good ideas.

  • Fear mongering involves creating infectious anxiety, scaring others into believing a good idea is far too risky to pursue
  • Death by Delay entails stalling an idea with never-ending questions, straw polls, and meetings—until the idea eventually loses momentum and fizzles out
  • Confusion consists of peppering a conversation with a stream of irrelevant facts and convoluted questions, making it near impossible for the innovator to keep the discussion on track
  • Ridicule is a direct attack on the character of the person who proposed the idea, creating indirect doubts about the idea itself
I am sure this list can be applied to many professions, but for me, it definitely does apply in education — and I admit I am guilty of at least one of them, having suggested my share of committees to delay ideas in the past.  In looking at any of the major educational initiatives, both past and current, they all seem to suffer from those roadblocks on Kotter’s list.
Kotter’s suggestions on how to deal with these challenges:
  • Invite the opposition in — “bring in the lions” — which is often counter intuitive since it focusses attention on the idea, which creates attention and engagement and can help win over hearts and minds; critics can be helpful
  • Keep ideas clear, simple and full of common sense and don’t allow yourself to get lost in the details
  • Treat the audience with respect – don’t try to beat people into submission. This just makes you look bad. Let the crowd come to understand and sympathize with your view
  •  Pay attention to the masses, and don’t obsess over the very few.  In the end, it is about the majority, not the minority
  • Preparation is really what it is all about
Kotter’s ideas are part of a book he has co-written with UBC professor, Lorne Whitehead,  Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down.
Here is a short video interview that summarizes many of the key notions:
A good reminder that sometimes a good idea is not good enough.

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