11 Lines used in workplace that accidentally kill employees’ innovation

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Due to the box type thinking, there are a lot of ideas strangling in uncertainty, whether it’s “thinking outside/inside of the box. Like Deepak Chopra mentions why can’t we simply get rid of the box?

Is it possible to think beyond all restraints?

Talk about disruptive transformation, breakthrough innovation, cutting-edge/bleeding edge technologies, everyone has a say.

(By the way all the words mean the same. It’s just the corporate way of making it seem like a brand-new concept only intellectuals are aware of. #CorporateJargon #Buzzwords).

No wonder, at all levels, employees are troubled by the confusing nature of managers, businesses and organizational policies. On one hand, you emphasize on innovation and on the other you hijack their Eureka moment.

The tick-box culture, conventional thinking, does not seem to propel ideas as expected. For instance, even in the day-to-day working, through words and actions we demonstrate how closed and stereotyped our thinking is. These commonly used one liners are the examples. We use them to justify not supporting an idea. So, we are either intentionally or accidentally killing innovation. Here they are:

#1 “That never worked/ I don’t think that will work”

Don’t be too sure unless you’ve tried 10,000 ways of deploying, all the methods, that exist. Also,

A new set of eyes = A whole new view. So, listen, before you reject!

I don’t think that will work: Your thinking isn’t obviously helping in bringing new changes. Rather than simply using your authority to deny, provide reasons. It also helps employees form a basis to understand the requirements and expectations, from their ideas.

Killing Innovation


#2 “We’ve never done it this way”

Great! A strong reason to start doing it now!

Like mentioned above, a reason is more insightful than an unthoughtful rejection.

Innovations are made only when you come out of the conventional thinking.

#3 “Don’t try to reinvent the wheel”

Even in the literal sense, the wheel has been reinvented. See Shark Wheel, http://www.sharkwheeluk.com/

This phrase emphasizes that attempting to reinvent something that has already been invented and optimized (tested for operational deficiencies and flaws) is simply wasting time and resources.

Well, if the wheel wasn’t reinvented, imagine our cars operating on wooden wheels. Whether its re-inventing, redesigning, or re-purposing, if the new idea or innovation is fixing a key problem area, it is meaningless to stick to an old concept.

Killing Innovation

Historically, in the 4th century BCE Greece, Earth was believed to be the center of the universe. Now you know, perceptions that are established as facts, remain so, until someone disproves them.

If you don’t make way for new ideas, it gets easier to become irrelevant. Because there is always a way to make things better, we just need to find it.

#4 “Please prove that it works”

Isn’t the initial step in innovation, also to see if these new things work? Asking to prove something that isn’t at an employee’s disposal is abusing authority. Instead, help the employee generate data required to analyze it, before dropping the idea or going ahead with it. Being a manager isn’t about being tough on people. By doing so, you are focusing on the wrong problem, while turning down the potential innovation.

Killing Innovation

#5 “We always play by the rules”

“That’s the reason, we’ve been hardly innovative”. “Playing by the rules: is often used as a preferred lie.

 Sometimes experience hinders thinking beyond the standard procedures, because you have the knowledge of “how things work”.

Rules are set for a good reason, however not all the rules are practical and sensible, especially the ones set to suit a past scenario. For progressive innovation, these conventional rules stand as obstacles. A proper discussion, a new approach helps in tricky situations, even if it involves bending or breaking the rules.

Killing Innovation

If it’s important to you, you’ll find a way…

If not, you’ll find an excuse!!





#6 “I only believe data”

That’s a good point. Data and analytics are important. Taking decisions based on evaluating information is critical thinking. However, information may not always represent all aspects of business and customers. There are many immeasurable, yet, important factors that need to be considered. Relying on data exalts business growth but not necessarily help innovation.

Killing Innovation

Simply put,

Not everything that counts can be measured and not everything that can be measured counts. -Albert Einstein

#7 “That’s not our job

….Let the R&D team take care of it. A centralized innovative mechanism isn’t an effective system if you want creativity and innovation to flourish. We all understand that the most intricacies of business and its operations are understood by the people working on it.

The R&D team helps inculcate innovative thinking, provides knowledge on using analytical methods, and consults SME’s to understand operations.

A huge potential is bypassed by not developing a 360-degree innovation process. Everyone’s idea counts, even if it does not result in a life-changing innovation.

#8 “I don’t care what it does, I care about how it works”

Ignoring the purpose: We often look at how to implement it and how it works internally, than realizing how helpful it might be to our customers, and if it addresses their needs. Customers care about creativity more than feasibility. Also, an interesting study mentioned on Center for Creative Leadership is as follows,

killing innovation

People don’t buy what you do, people buy why you do it”-Simon Sinek.

So, don’t evade the purpose!

#9 “I don’t think we are allowed that kind of budget”

 This is like refusing to buy a child his favorite toy. The situation is practical. How you say “no” makes all the difference.

Rather than killing the enthusiasm, challenge them and show direction to make it happen. Focus efforts on things or aspects of the idea you CAN implement.

Take baby steps. Do things that would not require an upfront huge investment.

If the idea is viable, make it’s benefits standout! Market it well.

#10 “Innovation isn’t the need of the hour”

.…..I wish you focus on our business deliverables first.

 Although you cannot ignore the everyday activities of your business, rejecting an idea, before even budding is daftly irresponsible! Find a way to make “design thinking” (a common language for innovation) a part of your everyday process; Inspiration, Ideation, Implementation.

People don’t know what they want until you show it to them- Steve Jobs 

#11 “I will look into it, and get back to you”

Unless you genuinely wish to discuss it at a later point, do not use this to sugarcoat a sure rejection. It is better to reject the idea upfront, than to keep an employee speculating the outcome.

Killing Innovation

To manage their expectations in the future, have a standard template that reflects your organizational / business objectives, to qualify as a viable idea.


Everyone thrives to be innovative, yet only few organizations have a practical innovation mechanism to embrace it. A mechanism that also involves, training managers to streamline the ideation process and encourage employees to let their creative brains work. Because that’s where majority of the ideas come from!

Instead of hiring innovation specialists to develop “new thinking”, trust your in-house specialists, your employees!!

Things to note:

  • Never dismiss ideas prematurely
  • See the bigger picture
  • Give directions, more than instructions
  • Don’t play favorites
  • Do not sugar coat- Be transparent
  • Don’t develop ideas in the dark room. Break the Innovation silos
  • Give credit for individual contributions
  • Board room isn’t the best place to generate ideas. Give people time!
  • The tick-box culture, ensures standardization but not necessarily accounts for new ideas.

Killing Innovation

The crux is, the ideas of 65% workforce should not be turned down, overshadowed or undermined by the 35% middle and top-level execs/decision makers.

By not responding constructively, you are not only killing the idea, but also your employee’s innovative spirit.

Other topics that might interest you How simple phrases uplift employee’s motivation


Rajeshwari Ogirala

Rajeshwari is a writer, Biz Development Manager. Passionate about people and personal development. Believes in sharing her knowledge and instilling positive work culture in people.

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