Innovation is a team effort.

In 1989, Graeme Joy with 2 other leaders led an international team embarking on an expedition to the North Pole. Graeme Joy became the first and only Australian to ski to the North Pole.

Needless to say, the Arctic expedition was a volatile and risky affair; as an effective leader, Graeme relied on his team heavily during this journey.

In fact, Graeme depended on his team’s creativity to overcome many unpredictable challenges during the trip. It was a time when having an idea assassin on your team could be detrimental.

There are a lot of similarities between Graeme’s adventure and the business environment that we operate in today. Both are risky and both require constant innovation to achieve results. It is not surprising at all that both need to deal with idea assassins. 

Who are idea assassins?

Idea assassins are people who are unwilling to operate outside their comfort zone and often reluctant to trial new ideas when facing a problem.

Idea assassins are not necessarily illogical or irrational. On the contrary, they often have a valid and intelligent argument. However, they are so set in their way that they become naysayers.

How to manage idea assailants?

No doubt we all have encountered idea assassins, but what should we do with idea assassins when we know that today’s business environment demands innovation and constant adaptation? These 3 tips may just get you started. 

1. Forget about good ideas

Stop setting the bar so high and demand only “good” ideas to be heard. As soon as you assign quality to an idea at the inception phase, self-doubt and hesitation inevitably follows as people have the perception that their ideas are never good enough.

Demanding for good ideas not only kills creativity; it also provides a platform for naysayers to be negative. So watch out for the language here. Instead of asking for good ideas, we simply ask for ideas and we ask for many of them. This is a time when quantity trumps quality and creativity wins over perfection. 

Building innocation culture in the workplace | Dr Suzi Chen

2. No Spanish Inquisition

Many people don’t share their ideas for the fear of receiving harsh criticism. In his 2012 book, Creative Strategy: A Guide for Innovation, Columbia Business School lecturer William Duggan talks about how having a Spanish Inquisition culture, which aims to squash away any “heretics”, can stifle any hope of possible innovation. In fact, as Duggan puts it, “it makes everyone conform to conventional wisdom …”.

So make sure to remove the fear associated with harsh criticism by sending a very clear and positive message to idea assassins that idea generation is paramount to the health of your creative process.

If you are yet to build a supportive culture in your workplace when it comes to innovation, perhaps it’s time to go back to the old school and use the suggestion box techniques. But it’s not just about putting a label on the box and expecting people to start using it. It’s about creating and celebrating an innovative culture.

Instead of setting up a suggestion box in the corner of the office that no one will ever visit, why not have a mobile suggestion box and simply pass it around during a brainstorming session? What about taking a step farther?

Maybe decorate this suggestion box, make it colourful and outrageous and make it fun. Create a positive psychological association that you should be celebrated every time you put an idea into this box.

This exercise fosters idea generation in a safe and yet celebratory environment where idea owner can choose to remain anonymous. Ultimately, you want to create a culture where people can confidently share their ideas with others openly.

3. Focus on the silver lining  

In the world of innovation, there is no such thing as a bad idea. An idea that may not work now could easily be picked up by others and flourish in another environment or on a later date. Large companies often fall into the bad idea trap with many “BUTs”.

“… but that’s not what we are about.”

“… but it is outside our scope.”

“… but we don’t offer such a service.’

This habit of rigid thinking means companies can gradually lose its competitive edge in a fast-moving business environment.

So what do we do?

If you can accept that there is no such thing as a bad idea, then before dismissing any idea, ask yourself, “what is the silver lining in this seemly ridiculous or irrelevant idea?”.

If you can’t find the silver lining, find someone else who can.

Unless you have found one good thing to say about the idea that you are about to toss out, you don’t throw the idea away.

This exercise forces you to avoid the conventional and rigid mindset and really critically examine all suggestions that you have received in a positive manner.

Take home message

Innovation doesn’t always come easy; it is a culture that needs to be cultivated. Having the right strategies to manage idea assassins will help you kick start your creative process. 

This article was originally featured on Find A Consultant.