Idea killers: ways to stop ideas

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. Chapter 4 of The Myths of Innovation covers them too, as it’s essential that any creative person familiarize themselves with these phrases and learn countermeasures to overcome them. No matter what kind of work you do, if you work with ideas you will hear these phrases often and they can unfairly kill your best ideas.

Mostly these phrases are used by people in power to dismiss a new idea quickly without bothering to think. These phrases require no thought to say. They often hold little water when considered, as “We tried that already” doesn’t mean that trying it again, today, with everything that has been learned, won’t have a better outcome. mean.

Unlike a real discussion, which might over a path forward (e.g if you can overcome x, y and z we’ll consider it) idea killers are lazy dead ends. There are often political reasons people kill ideas and these phrases help those ambitions.

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)

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.

  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”

  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!)

  4. mirathi

    the following phrase is often mumbled during staff meetings:

    “…monkeys fucking a football.”


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

  5. Jennie Zehmer

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

  6. Tungsten

    “One of our competitors did something like that once”

  7. chinmay

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

  8. revy

    “yes…but where is the ROI?”

    “You’re stupid”

    “Can we bring this to critical mass?”

  9. EG

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

  10. stampy

    “Get over yourself.”

  11. mary js

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

  12. Me

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

  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]

  14. Toggy

    Let’s sit on it for the time being.

  15. Neil O'Connell

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

  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. :)

  17. Caryn Rose

    “That’s not your job.”

  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

  19. phil

    the one I use the most would be:

    “Yeah… well… no.”


  20. Mark Long

    let’s put together a committee.

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

  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 …

  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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  23. Pete

    What we really need to do is…


    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.

  24. 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.

  25. RAKESH


  26. ren

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

  27. 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.



  1. […] Michael Wade über What Senior Management Really Means, hat mich sofort an diese beiden Artikel von Scott Berkun und Seth Godin erinnert: Idea killers: ways to stop ideas und Top ways to defend the status quo. Natürlich sind Killersätze wie die folgenden nicht nur dem Senior Management überlassen, sondern jeder Projektteilnehmer kann hier “konstruktiv” Projekte töten. “That will never work.” “It’s been done before.” “It’s never been done before.” “We’ll get back to you on this.” “We’re already doing it.” […]

  2. […] Replying to a way old post here, but it is chock-full of real life idea-stoppers, and you are encouraged to add your own. Here are some I have encountered: Yeah, awesome! I love how you come up with new ideas all the time! Where do you get it all from? I’ll see what I can get the boss to sign up on and we’ll get right to it! […]

  3. […] » Idea killers: ways to stop ideas Last week in the creative thinking course I’m teaching at UW, we spent time listing idea killers. Statements we’ve heard, or used, that stop ideas in their […]

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