As part of the research behind The Myths of Innovation, I read a tall stack of books with the word creativity or innovation in the title. Many had the same theme: they make incredible promises. They often say that with just a few simple steps or “secrets”, your competitors will stumble in your wake. Profits and promotions will be your dominion. And if the promises weren’t grand enough, many of these books presume that you have enough power in your organization to make anything you desire happen.
But an important question that’s easily overlooked is: Who has the power to stop progress in your organization?
Before you worry about pitching ideas or leading change, it’s worth considering who the powerful enemies of your, or anyone’s, good idea are. Most books, despite their promises, don’t help much with powerful coworkers who are in love with the status quo. Unless the books are slim enough to fling across the conference table and heavy enough to knock our their targets them out when they strike.
People in power stop progress because they:
- Are scared. They’re struggling to lead right now, without introducing more change.
- Don’t understand the new idea.
- Understand the idea, but see it as mere change, not progress.
- Are afraid of the changes the idea represents.
- Think the idea conflicts with their organization’s existing goals (which they don’t want to change).
- Are generally risk-phobic. They reject most ideas regardless of merit.
- Fear they’ll lose control over their organization. Or their empire will shrink in prestige.
- They don’t know how to convert the idea into profit, or advantage.
- Don’t see how it can help them get promoted.
- See the idea as creating more work for them.
Of course sometimes rejecting an idea is a wise move. Change isn’t always progress. But as this lists suggests, there are many strong and private reasons someone in power will reject ideas for reasons that have little to do with the merit of the idea itself. If you want to work with ideas, you need to understand the true landscape of power. And adjust the approach you take for getting support for the ideas on your mind.