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  • Gray Hammond

Checklist of creativity-killing phrases

Updated: Dec 19, 2022

If it’s your job to kill #creativity or #innovation in your workplace, here’s a handy-dandy checklist of monkey-wrench phrases to throw into your next corporate retreat or #brainstorming session. (Thanks to John Haefele, formerly of Procter & Gamble, and Ned Herrmann, originator of the HBDI profile.)

  • “We tried (something like) that years ago.”

  • "We've never done that before."

  • “That’s ridiculous.”

  • "We'll be a laughingstock."

  • "Management will have a fit/never approve it."

  • “That’s too radical.”

  • "That's not practical."

  • "Let's get back to reality."

  • "That will make other equipment/products/departments obsolete."

  • “Let’s form a team/committee to consider it.”

  • “That’s contrary to policy.”

  • "That's not our problem."

  • “Has anyone ever tried it?”

  • "You can't teach an old dog new tricks."

  • “It won’t work.”

  • “That’s too obvious to even consider.”

  • “Everybody knows that.”

  • “My kid could have done/thought/drawn that.”

  • "Why change it? It's working okay."

  • “We could never market that.”

  • “That’s superficial.”

  • “That’s interesting.”

  • “We don’t have time.”

  • "We're not ready for that."

  • "You're two years ahead of your time."

  • "We're too small/big for this."

  • “Tell me right now: what’s the potential profit from this?”

  • "It isn't in the budget."

  • "It costs too much."

  • “That’s not the kind of idea we expect from you.”

The greatest roadblock of all is the question, "Are any of our competitors doing something like this?" It's fabulous because it doesn't matter what the answer is. If the answer is "Yes", then you have several reasons for rejecting the idea, including lack of originality; if the answer is "No", then you stick the idea in the Irrelevant pile.

One I’ve heard several times in the non-profit arena is, “Who will do that?” While the shortage of human and other resources typically afflicting non-profits can be a spur to creativity, it can also be used as an idea-killer by obstinate executives.

Once you detect the pattern, you can create your own creativity-killers. Precedents and rules, or lack thereof, forms the core of most killer phrases. Questioning the originality of the idea has a nice touch. Put-downs that attack the idea or person are also popular.

Sir Humphrey Appleby, the obstructive civil servant in Yes, Minister, had many techniques, one called “rubbishing” – personally praise the originator as a nice guy, but use double-edged or back-handed compliments (e.g. a lay preacher can be labelled “Mr. Clean”).

And then you have a host of non-verbal cues, which can be used alone or in combination with the checklist: startled looks, hard stares, rolling eyes, sighs, quizzical eyebrows, shrugged shoulders, crossed arms, etc. These are fabulous because they don’t breach the brainstorming rule of “no negative comments” – because they’re not comments, technically speaking.

This article first appeared on LinkedIn

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