How do you receive new ideas? Leaders know that ideas are crucial for innovation and improvement, but ideas don’t just magically appear. They live right now in the minds of your employees. Wonder why you don’t hear more of them? Maybe you are doing something that kills your staff's ideas before they can be explored or even verbalized.
Personalities of “Idea Killers”
I often see the following types of “personalities” that are particularly skilled at killing ideas:
1. The “Problem Solver”
The Problem Solver loves to fix things. His attention immediately goes to what won’t work, and he truly believes that he is helping by pointing this out upfront. Is this you? If the first thing out of your mouth is: “The problem with that is…….” or “We tried that 25 years ago and it didn’t work because...”, your employees will probably hear that as criticism and not pursue the conversation.
2. The “Critical Cynic”
The Critical Cynic distrusts everything new and is pessimistic about it. This leader believes that when someone suggests a new idea, it’s because the idea is in the person’s best interest, not the company’s. The Cynic might say:
- “Yeah, right!”
- “Oh, c’mon!”
- “Get real”
The cynic may also express his displeasure by:
- Rolling his eyes
- Waving people out of his office
3. The “Director”
The Director is impatient and uncomfortable with anyone challenging him. He loves to tell people what to do, even if it doesn’t always make sense. He may say:
- “No, that is wrong. This is the right way.”
- “No! Don’t do THAT. Do this instead.”
- “We are NEVER doing that.”
4. The “Avoider”
The Avoider is afraid of risk. The thought of risk causes anxiety and worry, limiting his brain’s ability to see any positive aspects of a new idea. He is unwilling to change without a burning platform. The Avoider might say:
- “That would cost too much money and may not work.”
- “That will upset too many people.”
- Or, if he is really stressed, he might just stare in disbelief and fear.
5. The “Worker”
The Worker defines “working” as generating hard, measurable results right now. Time spent on any other activity, such as building soft skills or thinking creatively, is a cost to be avoided. These are phrases you might hear from The Worker:
- “That’s a great idea. You can work on it if you want to, but I still expect you to meet your current goals.”
- “Do we really need this many people in this meeting?”
- “What is the ROI?” (He expects payoff sooner than is realistic.)
6. The “Naysayer”
The Naysayer has a pessimistic view of life and loves making excuses for things he “can’t” do. Complaining is his favorite form of communicating. The Naysayer loves these statements:
- “That can’t be done.”
- “If it's such a good idea, someone else is probably doing it.”
- “You don’t have enough experience or skills to do it.”
- “We might get sued.”
- “It sounds too difficult.”
- “No one will buy that.”
"Idea Killers" effectively stifle employees' enthusiasm and creativity
The impact of all these personalities on their employees is the same: Employees believe it’s too hard to fight through the negativity and for their ideas to get the attention they deserve. Since their new ideas will not be valued or considered anyway, why should they make the effort to share them?
If you recognize any of these “Idea Killer” traits in yourself, try the following:
- If you are too busy to truly listen to someone’s idea, schedule a time when you can.
- Verbalize any positive aspect of the idea first.
- Get comfortable with the messiness of innovation. Don’t over-analyze too early.
- Show appreciation. Thank your employees for every new idea they generate, regardless of how little value you might see in it.
- Implement new ideas. This shows that you are serious about innovation. Develop a process, such as using a cross-functional project team, that is responsible for implementing new ideas. Make sure that the person who had the original idea is on the team.
- Make it safe for employees to take a risk.
- Praise employees who implement their ideas, even when they fail.
- Give your employees the tools, resources and time to think creatively.
- Develop criteria for implementing new ideas so that employees will understand when you decide not to pursue certain ones.