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By Paul D. Roberts

Innovation Consultant, Change, Innovation, Creativity, Synectics, New Product Development

Paul D. Roberts, Synecticsworld

Every human change starts with an idea, ideally one that is truly new and uncertain that we have the courage to explore, and that can break our inertial-thinking.  Inertial-Thinking could be stated as a version of Newton’s first law of motion.

First Law of Motion:  When viewed in an inertial reference frame, an object either is at rest or moves at a constant velocity, unless acted upon by a force.

Which in an innovative thinking context is…

First Law of Innovative Thinking:  Thinking at rest, remains at rest (or at a constant velocity), unless acted upon by a force.

These forces can be thrust upon us, such as a changing regulatory environment (or other economic forces), shifting cultural structures, or rapidly evolving technology.  Or change can come from within – a driving entrepreneurial spirit or a strategy of innovation within an organization.  Richard Branson is a prime example of change from within – a driving internal force that does not wait for change to happen, but is the agent of change himself.

Companies are constantly seeking competitive advantage, an innovative change in the way they go to market to capture and captivate the minds, attention, and dollars of consumers and businesses.  The ability to find, and the power of that competitive advantage is proportional to the newness of the ideas being generated.  I don’t want to flog an analogy to death, but it is somewhat like Newton’s second law of motion.

Second Law of Motion:  The acceleration of a body is directly proportional to, and in the same direction as, the net force acting on the body, and inversely proportional to its mass.

Which in an innovative thinking context is…

Second Law of Innovative Thinking:  The bigger the thing you are trying to change (the mass), the bigger the idea you are going to need to change it.

Innovation model, scrum, invention, brainstorming, new product development, leadership, change, agileIdeas grow from asking why and why not.  From seeing the same thing in a different way.  From combining different things in new ways. From applying one thing to a new use.  From exploration into new territories of thinking, theorizing, developing.  From imagining what it would be like “to pursue a beam of light” as Einstein so famously did. These all lead to ideas, and without ideas, there is no innovation – no change, nothing new.

So why do we kill truly new ideas so quickly?  Why, so often, do we club them into oblivion before they have a chance to thrive?

There are a myriad of reasons, often reflective of an environment of fear and safekeeping, uncertainty and self-protection, ego and self-advancement.  But to truly harness change and find competitive advantage, ideas need to be kept alive and explored for their possibilities.

Below are some common, and often subtle ways of killing an idea.  They were first outlined by Vincent Nolan of Synecticsworld (in his book Open to Change) almost 30 years ago, but are still running rampant today.

It is a good idea to be mindful of these the next time you are trying to creatively problem solve, and ask yourself,

“Am I the one holding the club?”  

Your competitive advantage may be in trying to thrive.

By the way, for those of us long out of school who may have forgotten Newton’s Third Law of Motion…

Third law of Motion:  When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction to that of the first body.

Which translates into…

Third Law of Innovative Thinking:  Expect pushback – Change is hard!


16 Ways to Kill an Idea

  1. Ignore it.  Dead silence intimidates all but the most enthusiastic.

  2. See it coming and change the subject.

  3. Scorn it:  “You’re joking of course,” etc.  Get your thrust in before the idea is fully explained or it may prove practicable after all.

  4. Laugh it off.  “Ho, ho, ho, that’s a good one Joe.  You must have sat up all night thinking that up.”  If he has, this makes it even funnier.

  5. Praise it to death.  By the time you have expounded its merits for five minutes, everyone else will hate it.  The proposer will be wondering what is wrong with it himself.

  6. Mention that it has never been tried.  If it is new, this will be true.

  7. “Oh, we’ve tried that before.”  Particularly effective if the originator is a newcomer.  It makes him realize what an outsider he is.

  8. Find a competitive idea.  This is a dangerous one unless you are experienced.  You might still get left with an idea.

  9. Produce twenty good reasons why it won’t work.  The one good reason why it will is then lost.

  10. Modify it out of existence.  This is elegant.  You seem to be helping the idea along, just changing it a little here and there.  By the time the originator wakes up, it is dead.

  11. Try to chip bits off it.  If you fiddle with an idea long enough, it may come to pieces.

  12. Make a personal attack on the originator.  By the time he has recovered, he will have forgotten he had an idea.

  13. Score a technical knockout; for instance refer to some obscure rule.

  14. Let a committee sit on the idea.

  15. Encourage the author to look for a better idea.  Usually a discouraging quest.  If he finds one, start him looking for a better job.

  16. Accept it, but do nothing with it…it prevents the originator taking it to somebody else.

Create.  Change.


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One Comment

  1. Ezequiel

    Great piece! The topic of this post is one we all need to revisit and remember on a regular basis, lest we veer away from a deliberate pursuit of real innovation and fall into me-too-ism disguised as innovation.

    A couple of questions I have come across to add to this list:

    1) Can you prove it and back it up with data?
    Data and analysis are wonderful tools–when applied appropriately. Some people ask for innovation and then ask this question when presented with a new idea. Go figure.

    2) What is the ROI of this idea?
    If the idea is really new, this question will surely kill it by diverting the focus of the originators from experimentation and development to justification. A lot of useless speculation usually follows.

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