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What Not to Do: Ten Ways to Inhibit Innovation

By Paul Sloane

Directors, vice presidents and managers have much more power than they realize. They can patiently create a climate of creativity or they can crush it with subtle comments and gestures. Their actions send powerful signals. Senior managers’ responses to suggestions and ideas are deciphered by staff as encouragement or rejection. If leaders want to crush creativity in an organization and eliminate all the unnecessary bother of innovation, there are ten guaranteed steps to success.

1. Criticize

Criticize all new ideas. Point out some of the weaknesses and flaws that will prevent an idea’s success. The more experienced a leader, the easier it is for that leader to find fault with other people’s ideas. Looking askance at the “new” is anything but new:

  • Decca Records turned down the Beatles
  • IBM rejected the photocopying idea that launched Xerox
  • DEC turned down the spreadsheet
  • Various major publishers turned down the first Harry Potter novel

The same thing happens in all types of businesses. New ideas tend to be partly-formed so it is easy to reject them as “bad.” New ideas often diverge from the narrow focus previously established and are, thus, easily discarded. Every time a new idea is criticized, the person with the idea is disinclined to waste further time presenting more suggestions. Criticizing sends a message that new ideas are not welcome and that anyone who volunteers them is risking criticism or ridicule.

2. Ban Brainstorms

Treat brainstorming as old-fashioned and passé. All that results from brainstorming sessions are a lot of new ideas that then have to be rejected. If an organization is not holding frequent brainstorm sessions to find creative solutions then it is not wasting time on new ideas. Management is telling its staff that input is not required. If brainstorming sessions must occur, they should be long, rambling and unfocused with lots of criticism of radical ideas.

3. Hoard Problems

The chief executive and senior team should shoulder the responsibility for solving all the company’s major problems. Strategic issues are too complicated and high-level for the “ordinary” staff – after all, if people at the grassroots levels knew the strategic challenges the organization faces then they would feel insecure and threatened. Do not have the staff involved with serious issues/the big picture – employees should not be challenged to develop solutions.

4. Focus on Efficiency Not Innovation

Focus solely on making the current business model work better. By concentrating on making the current system work better, time will not be wasted looking for different systems. The current business model is the one that is obviously the best one for the business. If the makers of horse drawn carriages, after all, had improved quality they could have stopped automobiles taking their markets. The same principle applies to makers of slide rules, LP records, typewriters and gas lights.

5. Overwork

A company should establish a culture of long hours and hard work. Hard work alone will solve the problem. Leaders should insist on not needing to find a different way of solving a problem – rather harder work at the old way of doing things will eventually solve any issues. Leaders need to assure that the working day has no time for learning, fun, lateral thinking, wild ideas or testing of new initiatives.

6. Adhere to the Plan

An organization must develop a plan in great detail and then not deviate from the plan regardless of circumstances. If an idea was not part of the original plan, there is no budget for it and, thus, the idea would not be implemented. Employees should ignore market changes – they will pass.

7. Punish Mistakes

If an employee tries an entrepreneurial idea that fails, blame and retribution must follow. An organization’s process must be to reward success and punish failure. The existing way of doing things will be reinforced and dangerous experiments will be discouraged.

8. Do Not Look Outside

A company’s leaders understand the business better than outsiders, having worked in it for years. Other industries are fundamentally different – if something works there it will not work here. Consultants are expensive – their ideas are not better than that of a company’s present leadership. By working harder inside the business, solutions will be found.

9. Promote Like People

Promoting from within is a good sign – it retains employees and serves as a reward for loyalty and hard work. More importantly, a company is not polluted by heretical ideas from the outside. If a chief executive officer promotes like people then the company achieves consistency and a clear succession. Any organization would be well-served to find managers who agree with the senior management and support all of their ideas.

10. Do Not Train

Talent cannot be taught – it is it a rare thing possessed by a handful of gifted individuals. There is no point in wasting money to turn ducks into swans. A company needs to work its employees hard, keep them focused on the existing business model and not allow them to experiment. Workshops, budgets and time allocated to creativity and innovation should be looked at as wasteful extravagances.


Although most will rightly conclude that it is best toneverdo any of the aforementioned creativity-killing tricks, most will also be familiar with organizations that run the like this. A company may not employ all of these principles every day, but if a company employs any of these methods it is doing itself a disservice. Creativity is an essential part of an innovation practice. Guided, systematic innovation uses methods and tools to draw creativity out of people – and takes advantage of the quality staff a company already has at its disposal.

About the Author:

Paul Sloane is the founder of Destination Innovation, a consultancy that helps improve innovation. He gives talks and workshops on leadership, creativity and innovation. He is the author of 17 books; the most recent is The Innovative Leader, published by Kogan-Page. Contact Paul Sloane at psloane (at) or visit