Words That Kill Innovation

Posted: October 31, 2013 in Words and communications
Tags: , , , ,

This being October, the month we honor the great explorer Christopher Columbus, let us continue on the topic of exploration. To be an explorer you need to be open to new ideas and also to the process of innovation. All which take a healthy dose of creativity. All of this starts with the words we use to get the process rolling. What we tell ourselves, how a team responds to a brainstorming session, how management communicates its acceptance or rejection of an idea impacts the creative process.

Before Columbus could get into a state funded ship and sail out onto the seas, he had to express his idea for the whole project. Then he had to communicate that in language that would convince not only the King and Queen to fund his idea, but also to be convincing to the potential people who were to be his crew. How much more difficult and scary was his task then our sitting in a board room meeting tossing out ideas! Yes, a company can “sink or swim” based upon an idea not explored properly. But before an idea can even turn into a project, we must watch what words we are using at that early stage. 

The biggest pitfall is attitude because attitude controls how we phrase our questions and our responses. Also needing to stick to the entrenched way of doing things can produce negative language. Here are examples of words and phrases that kill innovation before it ever gets off the ground:

“We’ve always done it this way.”

“It won’t work.”

“You can’t do that.”

“I (we) don’t know how”

“I (we) don’t think I (we) can do that.”

“That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard.”

“The boss won’t go for that.”

“Why should I care.”

“It would violate a rule (or directive or …fill in the blank)”

The operative negative words are “can’t”, “won’t”, “dumb”, and “why?”.

 In order to switch the language used from negative to positive we need to:

  • Be forward looking and open to change
  • Focus on opportunity
  • See value in an idea no matter how “out of the box” it is
  • Put status quo aside
  • Be open to challenging our assumptions
  • Refuse to accept limitations
  • View each idea as a new and exciting potential opportunity
  • Bring passion, not fear to the table

So if you want to discover new worlds, or just succeed in today’s difficult business climate, you need to welcome innovative ideas with open arms.  Explore, create, innovate, it all starts with the words we use.


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