dr carl robinson
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The Currency of Success - Interpersonal Intelligence™

Creativity Killers

Recently, I was the invited speaker at a dinner meeting of bio-tech CEOs where one of them complained about people who she characterized as, “Yes, but-ers.” Her complaint must have resonated because the other CEOs clamored to chime in with their examples of what I will call, “creativity killers.”

The example she gave was an obvious one. However, there are more subtle and menacing examples of how any of us can inadvertently do things that can suck the life out of a room of highly creative people in a flash.

In this briefing I’ll talk about some of those creativity killing behaviors. It is tempting to think creativity is killed by team members, but usually the executive sets the tone. Hence it is important that you can spot these behaviors in yourself, as well as in others, and keep from inadvertently unleashing this scourge on yourself and your team.

Executives that Kill Creativity

Executive behaviors that kill creativity include being:

  • Over-exuberant
  • Excessively competitive
  • Reliant on surveillance
  • Overly judgmental
  • A micromanager
  • Tied to relentless deadlines

Over-exuberant Executive

Typically, these executives do not know when to shut up.

This is a subtle but nevertheless, very effective creativity killer. Executives who chime in too soon with their ideas and solutions can inadvertently stop further discussions. “Here is the answer…case closed,” is the unstated message.

The trouble is that it may be “the answer” but if offered too frequently, other people will feel disempowered and simply wait for your correct answer. Unfortunately, no one person can be correct or brilliant all the time. You need to foster and tap into other peoples’ brilliance by encouraging input and discussion while being patient.

Excessively Competitive Executive

This is characterized by a “me first” mentality.

These executives tend to squelch the essential cross-fertilization of ideas found in highly creative environments because they are pre-occupied with protecting their own turf.

The team will internally respond with “Why should I tell you about my new idea if you are only going to put me down” (so that you stay on top). Or potentially, “If you’re going to take credit for my ideas, I’m going to keep them for myself,” even if it means stifling the team’s creativity.

Surveillance Prone Executive

This behavior is exemplified by the executive who hovers about and looks over your shoulder, inevitably squelching the creative urge.

The implication is that the executive doesn’t trust people and that deflates creativity.

Overly Judgemental Executive

These are the executives who critique too soon, too harshly, and scare people into silence.

If you evaluate ideas too soon, it can leave your team preoccupied with being judged. Not all ideas are good but jumping in too quickly to criticize them will stop the flow. Quantity of ideas is the hallmark of creativity.

Highly creative people produce lots of ideas…many end up on the cutting room floor before that one good one surfaces. The challenge is to refine and hone ideas at the proper time…not too soon.

Micromanaging Executive

This executive stifles creativity by getting involved at every step.

Similar to surveillance, micromanaging fosters an oppressive sense of constriction, which discourages originality. I’ve known too many executives jump ship over being micromanaged. Give your smart, creative people room, and let them know that they are trusted.

Relentless Deadlines Executive

These executives impose an unrealistic schedule that stifles creativity.

Teresa M. Amabile, of the Harvard Business School, found in her research that a too-intense schedule creates panic and can stifle creativity. “While some pressure can be motivating, and deadlines and goals can focus attention, they can kill fertile ‘off time’ where fresh ideas flourish.”

Although the onus is on executives to ensure an environment conducive to creativity, the behavior of some members can stifle this. You will also need to be observant and prepared to call out their behavior.

Team Members that Kill Creativity

From your team’s point of view, there are two key creativity killer behaviors.

Avoidance of change

Some people simply are risk adverse and innovative ideas are perceived as bad ideas.

Your challenge is to listen, consider, evaluate and then, if the idea seems good, ask this team member to self-evaluate.

  • Am I afraid of trying out this new idea?
  • Does it rock my boat too much?
  • Am I resistant because I’m afraid or is it really a bad idea?

Be ready to respond to their concerns.

Yes, but …

Often these team members are not really listening, and what they do hear they disagree with.

Some folks are chronic “yes but-ers” and when they enter a conversation you can feel people get depressed. Unfortunately, “yes but-ers” rarely receive useful feedback about their condition because they say…yes, but!
So, people avoid them or tune them out. If you have a yes but-er in your group, you must confront them quickly to stop the behavior or your energy (and the wider team’s energy) can soon become depleted.

If you know of other creativity killers and have successfully thwarted their attack…send them my way and I’ll post a follow up briefing.