The best way to kill creativity

It is ridiculously easy, it really is. So easy that you wonder how creativity continues to sneak up on to you every now and then. If you are the kind of person who is on an eternal war with creativity, I have just the thing for you. All you need to do is ask a combination of three questions. I can guarantee that you will have managed to eliminate at least 90% of good ideas that come your way if done right. Let’s get to the three questions.

Q1: Where has this been done before?

If you see someone bouncing their way in with a super creative idea, say nice things about the idea and then immediately ask which other organization has experimented with this idea before. There are three ways this scenario can play out.

(1) In some cases, the idea is not truly original and will likely have precedence that the idea presenter is aware of. Hence, they can tell you which organizations have done this, what they learnt and how they are going to take those learning and bring this to your organization. In that case you can either shed doubt on if it will work at yours or pooh pooh the idea as unoriginal and a copy-paste.

(2)  Some organization somewhere may have experimented with the idea but not publicized it. Hence, you send the idea presenter on a wild goose chase looking for examples and demotivate by delaying. It is likely they give up halfway through. If they find something, move to scenario 1 and if they don’t, move to scenario 3.

(3) This idea has never been done before. Express genuine concerns on how there must be good reason why no one else has done it. Show sincere interest in keeping an eye on the idea. If they do manage to pilot it for another group, you would love to learn the results and then explore if it is worthy of an investment.

Q2: How will this scale?

When an idea is a seedling, the idea presenter likely doesn’t even know for sure if it will work since the evidence is flaky. The idea presenter has probably not spent enough time considering how to scale. By focusing on scaling and its importance you will successfully deter the conversation from the topic of whether the idea holds any merit. Hence, you have successfully demotivated and defused the idea.

Q3: Can you give me a zero budget option?

If none of the above work, cut all funding. Most experimentation needs budget – either in the form of actual cash, resources like tools and supplies, a target group or just time. Shake your head in denial. You do not have the money at this point. If only they had come to you during the yearly budget planning. Maybe next year they should remind you and you’ll try factor that in then. You do not have the budget for the resources. Or it is just a very busy time and while you think it is a fantastic idea, there are other more pressing priorities that you would like them to focus on. This one never fails.

There you have it. Three simple zero-effort questions to kill all creative ideas that ever come to you. You don’t have to lift a finger nor come across as someone who does not further creative ideas because you kept appreciating the idea all the way through but presented genuine concerns on why this isn’t the right time. Only a fool would imagine you didn’t have your heart in the right place.

Yet, if you truly want to encourage creativity and imagination at the workplace, maybe catch yourself the next time you are tempted to ask any of these questions. Take a chance. All good things need a little more faith and a little less criticism.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s