Stop Slamming the Door on Innovation

by Holly G Green

Stop Slamming the Door on InnovationHow often do you hear these kinds of phrases in your company? Or worse, how often do you say them?

  • We already tried that; it’ll never work.
  • Nothing’s wrong with the way we’re doing it now, so why rock the boat?
  • If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
  • This looks risky; why should we spend money on something new that might not work out?
  • We considered that idea several times in the past but it never penciled out.
  • If there were a better way to do this, we would already have thought of it.
  • I’m all for new products, but I don’t think the market is ready for this one yet.
  • If something goes wrong, our jobs could be on the line.
  • Remember what happened the last time we tried something new that didn’t work?

For the most part, these are well-meaning phrases from well-intentioned people. But they stem from innate brain patterns that do not always serve us well in today’s hyper-paced business world. And they slam the door on innovation by discarding good ideas before they can be fully evaluated. When you constantly slam the door in the face of new ideas, it isn’t long before they stop knocking altogether.

Opening the door to new ideas and innovation requires taking deliberate steps to overcome the built-in brain patterns that lead us to automatically reject anything new. Here’s how.

Get brain savvy

Educate employees about how to become more aware of their thinking processes and illogical “thought bubbles” regarding innovation. Thought bubbles are those voices in our heads that instantly crop up when we consider something new (as in the list above).

Teach all managers and leaders to expose themselves (in a legally appropriate manner of course!) by sharing their thinking process. For example, “Here’s the data I have, this is what I believe it means, and therefore I have made these assumptions and recommend these actions…” Then ask for feedback, especially from people with different points of view.

Expose the thinking of others by asking, “What data do you have and what do you believe it indicates or means? Walk me through how you got to that conclusion. Help me understand what led you to believe that…”

Regularly visit the land of “what if…?”

Most new ideas live in the land of “what if…?,” a magical place where almost anything is possible until someone comes along and quashes the idea. Get in the habit of visiting this land by asking questions like:

  • What if we considered this from our customer’s or competitor’s perspective?
  • What if an investor were going to buy us? Does what we’re currently doing add to our value?
  • What if we had to cut the time and resources on our current product in half?

To create more “what if” thinking in your organization, develop the habit of using neuroprompts in meetings and discussions. These are questions, statements, or visuals that trigger our brains to pause and think about what they’re working on and why.

Embed your neuroprompts in core operating processes, such as business and talent reviews, by asking, “What new ideas were introduced this past month/quarter? What did we invest in exploring them? What did we learn from that process, and what can be applied to the next time? How much did we fail?” (If you aren’t failing some of the time, you’re not trying hard enough!)

Flex your innovation “muscles”

Strive to develop the habits that lead to successful innovation. For example, constantly seek out new and diverse sources of data. That way, the next time someone says, “We already tried that and it doesn’t work,” you can respond with, “I have some data that suggests otherwise; let’s explore this some more, or I came across some great examples from other industries that could apply to us now…”

Identify a specific innovation target and focus on it every day. Change your perspective, by frequently scanning the horizon for new and emerging trends, both inside and outside your industry. Actively seek out data that disagrees with your point of view.

Stage your field of vision by keeping your goals in front of you visually. Challenge assumptions by visiting them on a regular basis to see whether they’re still valid.

Question the right answer. In fact, stop looking for it in the first place. As a leader, your job isn’t to find the right answer. It’s to identify many possible alternatives and choose the one (or more than one) that best supports reaching the desired destination.

The next time a good idea comes calling, instead of slamming the door on it, invite it in for some conversation. Consider what could be instead of what already is or what won’t work. You may be surprised at what you come up with!

Call to action: Identify three common innovation-killing phrases in your company. Then tell people they can’t use them anymore.

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Holly G GreenHolly is the CEO of THE HUMAN FACTOR, Inc. ( and is a highly sought after and acclaimed speaker, business consultant, and author. Her unique approach to creating strategic agility, helping others go slow to go fast, will change your thinking.

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  1. > If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

    Advising against this can’t be serious, really. I hear the cries of people with young collegues eager to fix everything…

    • Whether concerning big or small businesses, new, creative ideas are often overlooked because their costs don’t fit into a set budget. Maybe businesses should allow more budget for innovations, especially if the product generated would be beneficial to the business, perhaps by ways of finance or environmental. Some businesses don’t hesitate to spend large amounts on redundant advertising. So why not use innovation to find more effective advertising that costs less to produce?

      I agree that group brainstorming is a great way to generate useful ideas. I have been involved in this process several times and have found myself thinking of better ideas based off hearing other people’s perspectives. Group brainstorming has also helped me to realize that my idea wasn’t the best and that it needed improvement.

  2. Yes Hannah, making the space for innovation including budgets is critical. We like to get locked in to the “right” answers very quickly and stay the course which often leaves no room for new ideas as they arise.

    And, yes, most of us are naturally great at associative thinking. Tapping into this and building on the ideas of others is an approach to generating and refining ideas

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