Innovation Saboteurs: The People Who Are Crushing Your Company's Best Ideas (and What You Can Do About Them)

Keith Harmeyer and Mitchell Rigie

Innovation Saboteurs: The People Who Are Crushing Your Company's Best Ideas (and What You Can Do About Them)

Not so long ago, a business could thrive for decades on just one great idea. But in today's innovation-driven marketplace, in order to remain relevant and successful you need a big idea every year, every quarter, or in some industries, every few days.

While many new innovation methodologies have been developed, group brainstorming, in one form or another, is still the most widely utilized process for generating and developing ideas. But while brainstorming can be a productive way to solve problems and capitalize on opportunities, far too often the process gets hijacked by disruptive individuals who undermine their team's efforts.

The result: many of your company's best, potentially game-changing ideas may never make it out of the conference room.

Many of these highly critical or strong-willed types actually believe they're helping keep the group on track with candid insights or sensible points-of-view. What they fail to realize, however, is that they can inject so much negativity or distraction into a session that they end up killing many of the best, most innovative ideas suggested.

Who are these disruptive forces? We’ve assembled a "rogue’s gallery" of the six most common, disruptive personality types you may want to consider un-inviting to your next brainstorming session.

Attention Vampires—Always the center of attention, they dominate the conversation, excessively push their own ideas and ultimately suck the life out of the room.

Wet Blankets—These pessimists see the flaws in every idea. They're negative, discouraging, depressing, and very quickly dampen the group's enthusiasm.

Idea Assassins—Beware these seasoned killers. They love shooting down creative ideas under the pretense of being practical and constructive. Idea Assassins are the same people who enjoy popping the balloons at birthday parties.

Dictators—They love every idea—as long as it’s their own. No one else's contributions count. Many managers unknowingly become Dictators. (Their role makes it too easy.) Such idea overlords are to be avoided.

Obstructionists—To them, nothing is simple or easy. They over-think, over-speak and over-complicate every idea, and singlehandedly dead-end otherwise promising sessions.

Social Loafers—They show up for the session, but rarely participate in a meaningful way. Social Loafers prefer to sit back, appear bored or distracted, and let others do the work.

What's a brainstorm leader to do? There are a number of practical steps one can take to manage disruptive behaviors and keep sessions on-track and productive:

Edit the Invitee List—The simplest way to avoid problematic personalities is to not invite them in the first place. If it’s a senior-ranking individual, assure him or her that any worthwhile ideas will be shared immediately after the session.

Establish Rules—Introducing a few rules of participation at the start of a session can significantly minimize disruptive behavior. Some popular and effective brainstorming rules are...

            Suspend all judgment.

            There’s no such thing as a bad idea.

            Go for quantity, not quality.

            Embrace wild, audacious ideas.

Keep the brainstorm free of negativity. Defer critical discussion for later, when it's time to evaluate and select ideas.

Impose a Brief Speaking Moratorium.—If someone is being disruptive, level the playing field with a nonverbal brainstorming technique. For example, ask everyone to silently write down five ideas, and then read their favorites aloud.

Segregate Strong Personalities—Divide the group into smaller teams of three or four. Deliberately assign any disruptive types to the same team...and watch the sparks fly. (Surprisingly, strong personalities often work very well together.)

Create a Self-Policing Group—In your list of rules, include one that allows all participants to throw crumpled paper balls at anyone that exhibits negative or judgmental behavior. It's not only fun, it works!

Assemble a “Dream Team”—When planning your next brainstorm, why not invite your dream team? Seek out knowledgeable individuals who possess a collaborative, can-do attitude—even if they're not a regular member of the project team. Shaking things up can have a dramatic impact on a group’s productivity. This is how the most innovative solutions are born.

 Remember, a brainstorm is only as good as the people in the room, the skill set of the group leader, and the tactics employed to minimize bullying and self interest, stimulate creativity and bring out the best ideas from everyone. Invite the right people to the session and proactively manage—or better still, politely forget—the idea killers. The groundbreaking solutions that emerge will not only astonish you, but add innovation fuel to your corporate engine.

About the Authors

Mitchell Rigie

A top creative professional for over 25 years, Mitchell’s expertise spans the fields of art, design, communications, strategic marketing, and human development. As a vice president and award-winning creative supervisor for advertising agencies—including Saatchi & Saatchi and Foote Cone Belding—and as a consultant for Grey Worldwide, he has managed creative teams in the development of campaigns for Fortune 500 clients, including Johnson & Johnson, American Express, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, and General Electric.

Keith Harmeyer

Keith’s professional background includes over 25 years in advertising and strategic marketing; sales and business coaching; and advanced presentation and communication skills training. As a marketing and creative executive at agencies in the Omnicom and Publicis networks, as well as founder and principal of his own marketing communications firm, Keith created countless successful brand-marketing programs and business presentations for many of the world’s best known and most successful companies, such as American Express, JPMorgan Chase, Sony, Time Warner, ABC, Disney, Philips, Fujifilm, Conde Nast, Sports Illustrated, GlaxoSmithKline, Roche, McDonald’s, Footlocker, and many others.

About SmartStorming:

The SmartStorming methodology is based on Mitchell and Keith’s 50+ years of experience and expertise, and their extensive research on the subjects of idea generation and creative problem solving, and practical application in the areas of innovation, peak creative performance, and interpersonal communication.

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