7 Ways You Kill Creativity in Your Meeting

Do your meetings have a creative killer?

Newsrooms call them “story killers,” the naysayers at meetings who repeatedly shoot down stories while unsuspecting victims are trying to generate new ideas.

Creative killers assassinate ideas, breeding fear and limiting impact for hundreds, maybe even thousands. These idea deaths never get investigated and their potential never gets measured. Crime scenes like this exist all over our organizations. The consequence: the death of creative thinking.

Are we helpless to our org’s own creative killers? Do we have to suffer through meetings at the hands of one anti-creative despot? We will get to that. But first, we have to ask, who are the creative killers?

Sadly, almost all of us, but there are often some repeat offenders. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve been one. Have you?

Creative killers are infectious, virulent, and abundant in our meetings. They vend a substance that infects an unsuspecting host rapidly and relentlessly, possibly changing the way their victims generate ideas for the rest of their careers. But, are creative killers indestructible? No, in fact, they’re often only temporary. In fact, once you know the signs and symptoms, they’re easy to detect and treat. For example, think of the last meeting you attended.

Did year hear anyone use one of the top 7 weapons of creative killers?

  1. We’ve already tried that.”
  2. “Nope, that won’t work.”
  3. “It’s against the rules.”
  4. “What if something bad happens?”
  5. “It’s a good theory, but practically…”
  6. “It’ll give us more work.”
  7. “We’ve always done it this way.”

For many around you, these are the only responses they know how to give to your new idea. If your idea is new, it means that you’ve gone away from the popular, obvious, or guaranteed ideas. It means that it may take more effort to understand or to make work.

We all know that the 7 creative killers are easy to say. They require little thinking and much less energy than their counterpart – the yes. But, can the remedy really be that simple?

The antidote to all these sabotaging statements and the “ain’t gonna happen” mindset they represent is as simple as saying “Yes, and…”

Let’s try out a practical example. You are sitting in a meeting, trying to solve a problem. Mary, your cat-loving co-worker from a few offices down, suggests an idea that you do not think will work. You can spring the usual “that won’t work” reflex. Or, you can stop and think to yourself, “Okay, I’ve had the insight that her idea won’t work. How can I use the insight I had to affirm and build on her idea to get around the obstacle?”

You might be thinking, that’s great, but what does “Yes, and…” look like in the professional world?

Here are some positive weapons to arm yourself.

  1. “How interesting! Let’s dig deeper on that …”
  2. “Why not? In fact, we can also…”
  3. “What if we test that idea and…”
  4. “There are a lot of ways we could try that…”

But, if everyone is always saying yes, how do we make decisions and select the best ideas?

Break up the process into two distinct parts: (1) divergence – going for quantity of ideas by deferring judgment and (2) convergence – selecting and prioritizing quality ideas. You will have plenty of chances to decide which ideas are worthwhile and which ones should be relegated to left field. My colleagues often excel at the critique. It’s in the “Yes, and…” bit where they need encouragement. Look out for my posts next week which will focus on part 2 of this process. Once we’re good at generating the right quantity of ideas, how can we improve at selecting and prioritizing our ideas?

When we problem solve or do creative work, it’s not only important to find ways to nurture our creativity, but to also be mindful of “creative killers” that can choke our ability to come up with our best ideas. So be courageous, build on others ideas, and go forth into your next meeting with optimism. After all, optimism (and positivity) is the kryptonite to creative killers. And, who knows, with a little luck, you might convert your meeting’s biggest creative adversary into its biggest ally.

So what’s your take?

Have you heard anyone use a creative killer? Have you tried a “Yes, and…” approach? What happened?

Dan Stowell is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!).

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Terrence (Terry) Hill

I have heard all seven of those excuses for inaction. I have also heard excuses like:
– We don’t have the resources (explore home-grown, low-cost options)
– We need to run that idea through OGC/Legal/Ethics (never a good idea)
– We need to wait to see what the new leader thinks (excuse for delaying decisions)
– The union will never buy that idea (why aren’t they included?)
– We aren’t Google (nobody is…get over it!)

Cynthia Dabney

Unfortunately, I hear all 7 frequently….
I have to add one…
“That’s not in our scope, is it?” (excuse for zero consideration)

Dan Stowell

Brilliant @Terry & Cynthia! Thanks for your insight. Some of these “creative killers” are trickier than others to overcome. How have you countered the “out of scope” comments successfully?

Sandra Yeaman

At one of my early overseas assignments, in Germany, the local staff always told me my ideas wouldn’t work. I wanted their feedback so I asked that they start each sentence with “I think if we try that idea we might find. . .” I was the boss, so I could hand out those instructions. And it worked. I started getting their ideas back.

Paula M

Haaa haaa! – “We’ve always done it this way” is all I ever heard when I worked at DHS/CBP. “Always”? The agency was only 3 years old when I came on board. CBP was probably the most creativity-killing place I’ve ever worked. The “old guard”, the former INS’ers, refused to listen to new employees’ ideas or learn from new employees’ experiences, or they would find ways to avoid addressing or implementing those ideas even though they made quite the charade of soliciting “new” ideas from their designated subject-matter-experts. I’ve never worked at a place that suffered from more inertia and self-aggrandizing behaviors as CBP, and as a result, new and creative ways of approaching a project were rarely, if ever, allowed to be nurtured or implemented. Sometimes paradigms must be broken to let in fresh ideas and approaches. I think there’s an element of “control-freak’ism” that goes on with those who consistently find ways to quash creativity. Just not sure how one can go about getting the creativity suppressors to recognize their behavior and let in some proverbial fresh air.

Dan Stowell

That’s really frustrating. But, keep up the good fight. We’re here for you! Did you ever successfully get over the “we’ve always done it this way” hurdle?

I’ve failed to get over that one many many times, but I’ve found some peaks of sunshine. One of the unexpected nuggets I’ve learned is how important trust is to trying something new. In situations where I’ve built some trust (and relationship), I’ve found it easier to turn them towards giving the new widget/action a go.

Katie Sweeney

Awesome post! I’ve definitely heard all the creative killers before. I think the difference between divergence and convergence is key. It’s so essential to have a positive and playful environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their ideas. You never know when a pie in the sky idea could gel with someone else’s thoughts and become something awesome.

Roderick Santiago

A government workplace seems to be the perfect breeding ground for nay-sayers for many reasons. Even so, I say that we all should still keep trying. Yes, you will get “no” a lot of times. However, every now and then, there is that one excellent idea that even the most stubborn nay-sayers cannot ignore.

Also, even when faced with nay-sayers all day long, I hope that we do not bring these creative-killing behaviors back home, especially when it comes to our children. I strongly believe that they should be nurtured to be independent, creative thinkers who should always look at ways to improve themselves and their environment. Still, a little dose of reality about how to face nay-sayers in their own lives is necessary.