Idea Assassins Kill Innovation: Are you the Roadblock to Innovation and Progress?

Are You the Roadblock to Innovation and Progress?


Pick up any business journal and you’ll likely find an article or two on the importance of innovation. But are you and your organization really fostering innovation?

None of us wants to believe that we are the roadblocks to innovation and progress, yet there are so many times when leaders shoot down opportunities for growth and innovation with one simple sentence. Some of these include:

  • It won’t work
  • We tried that once back in …
  • ‘They’ won’t approve (the we/they thing is always an easy target)
  • That will never fly here
  • You don’t understand. We’re different.

I’ve been guilty of saying one or more of these things on different occasions in my career. Once I recognized that my initial thoughts could take me down a path of resistance, I learned to be more open and encouraging of new ideas.


Part of the problem or the solution


A mentor once asked me, “Do you want to be part of the problem or part of the solution?” Of course, I want to be part of the solution. So, in order for me to remain the encourager-of-innovation-style leader, I had to catch my internal monologue before my mouth gets involved.


Intellectual Bravery


Leaders must encourage what author Timothy R. Clark calls “Intellectual Bravery”. In a Harvard Business Review article, Clark defines intellectual bravery. “Intellectual bravery is a willingness to disagree, dissent, or challenge the status quo in a setting of social risk in which you could be embarrassed, marginalized, or punished in some way. When intellectual bravery disappears, organizations develop patterns of willful blindness. Bureaucracy buries boldness. Efficiency crushes creativity. From there, the status quo calcifies and stagnation sets in.”

A few phrases that I’ve taught myself to use when these innovation-blockers creep into my psyche include:

  • Tell me more
  • Let’s give it a shot
  • It’s a new day here and the time could be right this time. Although we tried something similar in the past, maybe we can learn from the past and figure out what caused it to fizzle.
  • How can I help you plan for success?

Any of these responses to an idea can promote engagement and enthusiasm. The first step is deciding to be open to new ideas. It’s a choice. Be dynamic or be a dinosaur. If your heart and mind say dynamic, just make sure your mouth isn’t blocking growth and creativity.


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