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Killing or Enhancing Creativity and Innovation in Business

Business environments and cultures can encourage or stifle creative thinking – just like our own creative minds.

Tom Kelley, general manager of award-winning industrial design firm, IDEO, writes about a common form of response to creative ideas in a “pivotal meeting where you push forward a new idea or proposal you’re passionate about.

“A fast-paced discussion leads to an upwelling of support that seems about to reach critical mass. And then, in one disastrous moment, your hopes are dashed when someone weighs in with those fateful words: ‘Let me just play Devil’s Advocate for a minute . . .’

Kelley notes the speaker “now feels entirely free to take potshots at your idea, and does so with complete impunity. Because they’re not really your harshest critic.

“They are essentially saying, ‘The Devil made me do it.’ They’re removing themselves from the equation and side­stepping individual responsibility for the verbal attack. But before they’re done, they’ve torched your fledgling concept.”

The criticism may be logical – or at least seemingly so – but Kelley says the “Devil’s Advocate encourages idea-wreckers to assume the most negative possible per­spective, one that sees only the downside, the problems, the disasters-­in-waiting. Once those floodgates open, they can drown a new initia­tive in negativity.” [From his book The Ten Faces of Innovation.”]

This sounds very like our all too common experience of an inner critic, “informing” us why an idea is wrong or inadequate or unlikely to work etc.

Video: David Kelley, founder and chairman of IDEO, at TED2012 on building your creative confidence.

Killing Creativity

An article notes “Creativity is the driving force behind many new products, services, and companies around the world, creating solutions to age-old problems and offering new ways to live our daily lives.

“Yet despite the indispensable nature of innovation, many businesses don’t exactly foster creativity in the workplace, sometimes even actively working against it.”

The article [no author listed] goes on to list specific ways businesses “kill creativity on a daily basis, which isn’t just bad for those creative minds but also the organization as a whole.”

Here are the first two ways:

1  Playing it safe

“Rejecting ideas out of hand because they are different than the way you’ve done things before might seem logical but when you think about it, it becomes immediately clear that this is pretty much antithetical to any goal of creative or innovative thinking. True creativity is about taking risks, breaking new ground, and coming up with things that are new and novel, not just more of the same. If you limit employees to only working within existing bounds, then you’re creating a pretty poor environment for creativity.”

2  Restricting freedom

“While employees need some structure and guidance in order to flourish and be truly creative, restricting freedom is one way to kill the creative spirit pretty quickly. One common way this happens is by making it clear to employees that new methods of doing things aren’t welcome or by forcing them to work within unnecessarily narrow confines to reach their goals. Understand that there are many ways to reach a desired result and give employees some free reign to be inventive on their own terms.”

See the full article: 13 Ways Companies Kill Creativity.


Photo from post: IDEO San Francisco: be collaborative as state of mind, by Andrea Paoletti.


The Ten Faces of Innovation: IDEO’s Strategies for Defeating the Devil’s Advocate and Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization, by Tom Kelley.

His earlier book is The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm.

Also see my earlier post Creativity and Innovation in Business.


Killing or Enhancing Creativity and Innovation in Business

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2012). Killing or Enhancing Creativity and Innovation in Business. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 14, 2020, from


Last updated: 24 May 2012
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