In innovation, the buzz words you often hear are digital disruption, big data, cloud based, design thinking, startups and Fintech. It’s for good reason, these are all important pieces of the innovation puzzle.
What’s often missed in the innovation puzzle, yet just as relevant, is the importance of language in innovation.
Language is very, very powerful. Words can cut either through us like a knife, or lift us up to great heights. If we are feeling down, a few kind words can make all the difference. We can remember something that someone said, good or bad, for a lifetime. Words can have a huge impact.
They can have a massive impact on innovation. Whilst innovation starts with a problem, it MUST have great ideas to solve that problem. What I have found in my years of working in creativity and innovation is there are great ideas in every company. The problem is that these ideas never see the light of day. One of the main reasons is that the language used in an organisation doesn’t allow these ideas to see the light of day. In fact, poorly chosen words are one of the biggest idea killers around.
Here are some of the phrases that you need to watch out for:
1. No, but we’ve tried that before.
Who cares if you have tried it before? Remember, business as usual is not the new normal. Are the market conditions the same as the last time you tried this? Are your customers the same? How do you know that there isn’t much more you could have done?
A better response could be, “We tried something similar and at that time, it didn’t work out as we planned. What did we miss and how can we make it work this time?”
2. Stick to your job. That’s not in your job description.
This one comes from a Jill Schiefelbein article. She says that it’s the perfect way to make an employee feel that she has no use beyond her immediate job description This phrase kills any organisational buy-in and stops any incentive the employee has to think of ideas outside of her immediate purview. What a terrible way to kill someone’s unique perspective.
A better response could be, “Your role gives you great insight. Appreciating how this idea sits outside your immediate job description, how can we work together to continue your involvement?”
3. It sounds good in theory but it won’t work.
How do you know it won’t work? What theory are you applying Einstein? How do you know that there isn’t new data and insight that you would have missed? Are you the Oracle? A better response could be, “Tell me more about how this could work.”
4. Yes, but we’ve always done it this way.
I imagine that this may have been the response when 26 year old Kodak employee, Steven Sasson presented a prototype digital camera to his employer. Kodak is the classic example of a company that failed to adapt and who went from being the no.1 brand in photography to filing for bankruptcy in 2010.
A better response could be, “I truly value your freshness and that you are looking at things differently, tell me more how this could work.”
5. Legal won’t allow us.
This idea came from a Fast Company Article by Tod Donhauser. I love his explanation: “The legal department was not established to innovate – it exists solely to look for a legal pattern to follow. The question for any legal team is not, “can we…?” It should always be, “why can’t we…?”
6. Let’s form a committee about this.
You might as well say, “Let’s bury this until a time when your creative soul has left your body and you have become the type of worker robot that our organisation secretly values.” When this eventually works it’s way through your system, the person who has put forward that idea has left and created a startup that has taken 30% of your market share.
A better response could be, “Let’s set some dates right now for the next few days when we can explore this further.”
7. Let’s think outside the box. OK, this one isn’t a innovation killer as such. However, it will produce far too many eye rolls and most likely cause half of your audience to mentally clock out. This over used cliché should go in the bin with drinking the kool-aid and let’s run it up the flagpole.
A better statement could be, “Our thinking has been stale as mouldy bread on this. Let’s get real and push ourselves to look at this from another angle”. This can be followed by a disruptive what if we…? question about your problem.
Your organisation is sitting on a hot bed of ideas. Everyone in your organisation has unique experiences, insight and knowledge that no one else has. A culture of innovation thrives when all ideas are heard and valued. Avoid the default setting of seeing why an idea won’t work before exploring all the ways an idea can make a difference. Seth Godin says you need lots of bad ideas for some of them to be good ideas. Your role is to ensure that all ideas see the full light of day in your organisation.
That doesn’t mean that all ideas are going to be the next Uber or Salesforce. All ideas need to be evaluated and tested however you need a never-ending supply of ideas, freshness and great insight to develop the next Instagram or market disruptor.
Ensuring you use language that allows ideas to thrive is an essential step.
Are there any other phrases that are idea killers that we should look out for?
I would love to hear them.
Simon Banks is an author and International Keynote speaker on creativity and innovation and recovering artist. He’s delivered over 1300 events across the globe. He’s the Director of creative training company VisualFunk, known for running innovation workshops, conferences and design sprints to brew fresh thinking and develop market-leading ideas. His book A Thousand Little Lightbulbs: How to kickstart a culture of Innovation in your Organisation is out now.
(Photo Credit) Photo courtesy of Tim Gouw