In the creative thinking course I taught at UW, we spent time listing idea killers. Statements we’ve heard, or used, that stop ideas in their tracks. Have any to add?

Chapter 4 of the Myths of Innovation explores why these are often said, and how to work around them.

Mostly these are used as thought inhibitors: they don’t require any thought to say. They’re used as flinch negative responses, dismissing without explanation. Unlike real critical thinking, which offers a path (e.g if you can overcome x, y and z we’ll consider it) idea killers are lazy dead ends.

Idea Killers

  • We tried that already
  • That never works
  • Would you like a pony?
  • Looks like ass
  • You’re fired
  • We will actively work against you
  • (Laughter)
  • Not in our budget
  • Not an interesting problem
  • We don’t have time
  • Execs will never go for it
  • Out of scope
  • But its the law
  • Too blue sky / Holy grail
  • This train is on fire
  • Wont make enough $$
  • Not in our business
  • Its Non performant (engineering)
  • What are you on?
  • Can we get someone with a brain in here?
  • That isn’t what people want
  • No response at all

What are others you’ve heard? (Also see Idea Helpers, a positive spin on the same theme)

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107 Responses to “Idea killers: ways to stop ideas”

  1. Scott (admin) |

    Seki: ‘I want a pony’ is a classic childhood wish. So to say ‘would you like a pony’ means that the idea is wishful or childish.

    Reply
  2. Lance Morgan |

    Really harsh sarcasm is probably the worst, and I usually deal with a lot of it.

    “Why don’t you just ask customers to buy our competitor’s product?”

    “That is a common sense approach that has no use in a government agency.”

    [second statement said only half sarcastically]

    “[X] is a great idea, but [y] is not your area of expertise. I am sure that someone has already thought of that and if it worked they would have implemented it”

    Reply
  3. Ken Gransbury |

    “Well burn that bridge when we come to it!”

    (Mixed metaphor humour at your idea’s expense….. Mixed metaphors are two sayings mixed into one. Like: “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” and “Let’s not burn our bridges” – two good metaphors made into a bad one.. like lets burn the idea and the bridge!)

    Reply
  4. mirathi |

    the following phrase is often mumbled during staff meetings:

    “…monkeys fucking a football.”

    explanation:

    just imagine monkeys fucking a football when a project is trying to get done. got that picture in your head?

    Reply
  5. Jennie Zehmer |

    I am curious about phrases that grow ideas. . . Anybody willing to take that on?

    Reply
  6. Tungsten |

    “One of our competitors did something like that once”

    Reply
  7. chinmay |

    sounds fine, but it’ll take too much time…

    Reply
  8. revy |

    “yes…but where is the ROI?”

    “You’re stupid”

    “Can we bring this to critical mass?”

    Reply
  9. EG |

    “Get with a black belt and do a six sigma project on that…”

    Reply
  10. stampy |

    “Get over yourself.”

    Reply
  11. mary js |

    “this is the sort of thing you shouldn’t waste your time with”

    Reply
  12. Me |

    “Great idea, sadly this is not he right client for it.”
    The right client never appears…

    Reply
  13. Maria |

    In here, we’re thinking outside of the box.

    You need to eat a lot of bread (before you suggest something decent). [meaning, I have a lot to learn yet]

    Reply
  14. Toggy |

    Let’s sit on it for the time being.

    Reply
  15. Neil O'Connell |

    Who are you again? And why are you dressed like that?

    Reply
  16. reid |

    I heard these from my former CIO in my exit interview:

    “You’re too young to have any good ideas.”

    “You just don’t understand. IT has always been done this way, and it always will. There is no better way.”

    …from what I heard that CIO was unemployed for quite some time after he was laid off. :)

    Reply
  17. Caryn Rose |

    “That’s not your job.”

    Reply
  18. wael |

    it will never work

    it is not your bussines

    i never heared about that before

    you could not manage it

    do not be so sure about it

    Reply
  19. phil |

    the one I use the most would be:

    “Yeah… well… no.”

    ;-)

    Reply
  20. Mark Long |

    let’s put together a committee.

    (my apologies if this one has shown up already.)

    Reply
  21. Manny Bonet |

    Here are two:

    Real people have do this …

    People will never understand that …

    and finally related to one of your other blogs I’m sure you will apreciate this.

    That is just too complex …

    Reply
  22. Anete Benedict |

    It is very interesting for me to read this article. Thanks the author for it. I like such topics and anything that is connected to them. I definitely want to read a bit more soon.

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    Reply
  23. Pete |

    What we really need to do is…

    *silence*

    We did something like that last time!

    Good idea, but we need to talk to x about it and we will get back to you

    Your not a designer.

    Mail it directly to me and we can talk about it further once I’ve had time to go through it

    Yeah, but someone has to pay for it.

    Reply
  24. MarkjOwen |

    “That’s good, but not your main objective.”

    Reply
  25. Jess Weiss |

    Great post, and here are a few I’ve heard recently:

    - Not within our purview / title / mission
    - That’s someone else’s job
    - We don’t want to step on x’s toes
    - We’re too resource constrained for such an ambitious project.

    Reply
  26. RAKESH |

    DIMAG GAS CHARANY GAYA HAI (ARE U NUTS)

    Reply
  27. ren |

    Not realistic.
    Too much psychology.
    Too little psychology.
    We need to think constructively!
    Stop talking about the Sopranos! :)

    Reply
  28. Joen |

    In a past life I heard a frightening amount of these. But also, if I might augment your list, the notorious “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it”. On second thought, that credo might be a talking point in its own right.

    Reply
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