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.

  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. MarkjOwen |

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

  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.

  26. RAKESH |


  27. ren |

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

  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.

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