Three Phrases Likely to Kill Innovation in the Workplace

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By: Marie Donlon

Commonly-used phrases popular in the business world may very likely be killing employee innovation in the workplace. While most people want to work for an innovative company, oftentimes the tone and words used in workplace conversations and internal communications might unintentionally be suffocating creative thinking.

“We codify our behaviors, our instincts, and our thinking based on language, and it often happens in ways we don’t anticipate,” said Frans Johansson, author of The Medici Effect: What Elephants & Epidemics Can Teach Us about Innovation and CEO of The Medici Group, diversity and innovation consultants. “Certain terms and phrases get traction and are repeated over and over. Before you know it, it’s the way you talk within your culture.”

Among those phrases that might be extinguishing creative thinking include the following:

Best Practices

This phrase has gained considerable traction as a response to many workplace queries. Ultimately, “best practices” means sticking with the tried and true, which doesn’t exactly summon creative thought. Instead, it is code for potentially outdated solutions to current problems.

Return on Investment (ROI)

Tying ROI to innovation will quickly kill innovation. It’s hardly possible to predict what kind of ROI to expect from an idea that is only in its infancy.

“It’s not an enhancer to bring forward good ideas,” Johansson said. “In fact, it serves the opposite function. If you’re worried about money, a more interesting phrase is, ‘If this fails, what is the cost and are we okay if it doesn’t work out?'”

“When I Worked for….”

Another phrase likely to shut down innovation might be offered in response to a new idea being recommended by an employee. “Someone might say, ‘When I worked at Company XYZ, we tried that and it didn’t work,'” said Johansson.

“What this phrase is really about is establishing expertise,” said Johansson. “It’s saying, ‘I know what I’m talking about because I worked at XYZ company years back.’ It’s possible that company isn’t even doing it that way anymore. To encourage innovation, don’t get stuck in the past.”

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