April 13, 2012
100 Reasons Why You Don't Get Your Best Ideas At Work

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Since 1986, I've asked 10,000 people where and when they get their best ideas. Less than 2% have said "the workplace."

Based on my 25 years of working with a ton of innovation-seeking organizations, here's my take on WHY:

1. Too much to do, not enough time.

2. Too many distractions and interruptions.

3. You work in a risk averse organization.

4. Sleep deprivation.

5. Mental clutter.

6. Fear that someone will steal your idea.

7. You don't think of yourself as creative.

8. Boring meetings that put you in a bad mood.

9. You're not measured for the quantity or quality of ideas you generate.

10. Stultifying routine.

11. You are worried about layoffs and don't want to draw undue attention to yourself.

12. Poor ventilation -- not enough oxygen.

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13. The last time you came up with a great idea, you were either ignored or ridiculed.

14. It's not in your job description.

15. It's not in the strategic plan.

16. It's not in the cards.

17. It's not in the Bible.

18. Your manager has made it clear that he/she does not have the time to consider your ideas.

19. Lack of immersion. Lack of incubation.

20. No one's ever told you that they want your ideas.

21. You are understaffed and don't have the time to try an innovative approach.

22. You are angry at the company.

23. You get no input from people outside your department.

24. Your company has just been acquired and you don't want your new overlord to succeed.

25. You know there's no one to pitch your new ideas to -- and even if there was, it's a long shot they would listen.

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26. You're concerned that your great idea is so great that it will actually be accepted and then you will be expected to work on it in your spare time (which you don't have) with no extra resources made available to you.

27. All your great ideas are focused on trying to get Gina or Gary, in Marketing, to give you the time of day.

28. You're a new parent.

29. You've got other projects, outside of work, and have no energy left to think about anything else.

30. They don't pay you enough to think creatively.

31. You're expected to leave your mind at the door when you come to work.

32. No incentives or rewards.

33. You don't have the intrinsic motivation .

34. Actually, you don't want to be working at all -- and you wouldn't be working if the financial meltdown didn't happen.

35. You have not identified a challenge or opportunity that inspires you enough to think up new ideas.

36. No timely feedback from others.

37. There's no one to collaborate with.

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38. Constantly changing priorities.

39. "Work," for you is synonymous with things you have to do not want to do, thus creating two parallel universes that never intersect.

40. You haven't read my award winning book yet.

41. It's too noisy.

42. Endless hustle and bustle.

43. You can't stop thinking about new ways to improve your Match.com profile.

44. You're too busy tweeting.

45. You have the attention span of a tse tse fly.

46. Just when a good idea pops into your head, you dismiss it as "not good enough".

47. Your left brain has become a kind of Attila the Hun in relation to your Pee Wee Herman-like right brain.

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48. You didn't get the memo.

49. You are too busy deleting spam.

50. The brainstorming sessions you attend are pitiful.

51. You believe that new ideas are a dime a dozen.

52. You're not paid to think. You're paid to DO.

53. Actually, you don't have a job.

54. You are hypoglycemic.

55. You're not allowed to listen to music at your desk.

56. You have no sense of urgency.

57. Your office or cubicle feels like a jail cell.

58. You're too busy filling out forms.

59. Not enough coffee.

60. Drugs are not allowed in the workplace.

61. Existential despair.

62. There's a call on Line 2.

63. You have no time to incubate or reflect.

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64. You've got to show results fast.

65. You know your boss will, eventually, get all the credit for your great ideas.

66. You've just been assigned to another project.

67. Brain fatigue.

68. You haven't tried Free the Genie yet.

69. You don't feel valued or appreciated.

70. You deciphered a much talked about sighting of a Crop Circle in England as meaning: "Stop coming up with good ideas at work."

71. Every extra minute you have is spent on Facebook.

72. There's too much stress and pressure on the job.

73. Naysayers and idea killers surround you.

74. Inability to relax.

75. It's summertime.

76. You've got this weird rash on your leg and you think it might be Lyme's disease or leprosy.

77. What you think of as a great idea and what your manager thinks of as a great idea are two entirely different things.

78. You know you won't get the funding, so why bother?

79. You're just trying to get through the day.

80. Every time you get a great idea, it's time to go to another meeting.

81. You only get your great ideas in the shower and there are no showers at work.

82. Your head is filled with a thousand things you need to do.

83. Relentless deadlines.

84. Too much input from others.

85. You have to stay focused on the "job at hand".

86. You'll only end up making the company richer and that is not what you want to do.

87. Those bright, annoying, overhead fluorescent lights.

88. No one besides you really cares.

89. You've just been assigned a project that is boring the hell out of you.

90. There is no one to brainstorm with.

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91. Your husband/wife is complaining that all you ever do is work -- or talk about work.

92. No alcohol.

93. Your cultural upbringing has taught you that it is not your place to conjure up new ideas.

94. Your job is too structured to think outside the box.

95. People seem to be staring at you and that makes you self-conscious.

96. You're too busy complaining about the organization.

97. Wait! How come they're taking so much out of your paycheck?

98. You're only working there to beef up your resume for the next job.

99. A vast right wing conspiracy.

100. You let too many of the aforementioned 99 phenomena have their way with you. Your resulting assessment of the corporate environment not being conducive to the origination of great ideas then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Possible antidotes

A big thank you to Jim Aubele, Fran Tyson-Marchino, Nirit Sharon, Cindy Pearce, Robert Fischaleck, Deborah Medenbach, Amy de Boinville, Glenna Dumay, Bert Dromedary, and Sally Kaiser for their contributions to this list.

A good way to get ideas at work
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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at April 13, 2012 11:29 AM

Comments

Mitch –

This is a very clever post..but #100 is powerful in its devaluation of the former 99 and of a list like this.

With your database of 25 years of inputs on where the best ideas come from, I hope that you'll provide a guide to what is the right kind of workplace for innovation!

Jim

Posted by: Jim [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 1, 2011 06:36 PM

I agree with Jim that "#100 is powerful in its devaluation of the former 99 and of a list like this." Why is that even included if this is meant to be a serious list?

I'm not as confident as he seems to be that your work would necessarily result in a guide for innovative workplaces. But I do hope you share more about how you got input from 10,000 people and more about the make up of the list. For example, why would a list from 10,000 people include some of the glib comments in the list. Did several people really say something like "because they're staring at you" or "no alcohol?"

Also, I had hoped you'd share the most common answers to your question about where people get their best ideas - you position that as the hook. We all have our list of guesses based on experience and urban myth, but that would be a very interesting list if it's based on 20+ years of research.

Posted by: Alice MacGillivray [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 1, 2011 07:43 PM

Jim and Alice:

Thanks for your feedback. The wording of my 100th reason may have been a bit misleading (so I have taken the liberty of refining it). I was not attempting to devalue the previous 99 "reasons." What I was attempting to communicate was the phenomenon of people using any of the 99 as reasons/excuses for NOT coming up with their best ideas. No corporate environment is perfect. There are constraints, bureaucracy, and dysfunctional environments everywhere. True innovators, however, do not bail out just because the workplace is not ideal.

I've written a lot about "culture of innovation" and you can find some useful articles of mine on my blog by clicking http://tinyurl.com/25b6p58 or simply clicking on "culture of innovation" in the sidebar.

To Alice's point. Yes, the list was meant to be serious, though some of the seriousness is actually pretty funny when you step back and look at it from a distance.. The list, itself, is NOT a guide for innovative workplaces, nor was it meant to be. It is simply a list of the common reasons/excuses/phenomena that seem to keep showing up in corporate environments. What Alice refers to as "glib comments" are a combination of what I've heard my clients say and my own bent sense of humor. Personally, I find most corporate environments to be too repressive. In the name of "professionalism," people end up leaving their creativity and humanity at home. The playfulness, ease, fun, humor, spontaneity, and experimentation that are such a big part of the DNA of the creative process are all too often expunged from corporate environments.

I will soon repost an old article of mine on "where people get their best ideas" so you can get another (more constructive?) point of view about this matter.

Bottom line, people tell me they get their best ideas during "down time" when they are not under pressure, when they are able to incubate and process the flora and fauna of daily life. This incubation often happens in the commute home from work, just before sleep, in dreams, in the shower, or just upon waking. Exercise is another big catalyst -- not only because endorphins are kicking in but because the logical, rational, linear, left brain is getting a break and a more intuitive subconscious knowing surfaces.

My creating lists of complaints or common excuses, doesn't necessarily "fix" anything, I know, but it often sparks the kind of reflection and dialogue that DOES lead to positive change.

As Fritz Perls once said, "Awareness cures."

Posted by: Mitch Ditkoff [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 2, 2011 01:57 AM

Mitch

Interesting list.

Enjoyed reading it. May I share it with a couple audiences next week with full reference and credit to you and your blog?

Over the years I have done similar LIST collections using the internet.

Most of your 100 appeared on my LISTS except for the most recent ones due to the creation of new electronic distractors: Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, etc.

When I asked the perpetual question:

Where and When you get your ideas?

during a idea facilitation with scientists and technical people in South Africa in October I got the usual:

in the shower
in the bath
doing something else
watching tv
playing games or sports
driving
riding my bike
walking
running
etc.

none said...."AT WORK"

none said ...

"AT MY WORK STATION,
IN MY LAB,
AT MY DESK,
IN MY CUBICLE,
IN A MEETING"

then during the next 3 hours we proceeded to generate many ideas for a very serious problem their research center is being asked to work on

"ROBBERY OF ATM MACHINES"

using idea generation tools and techiques in an open environment where the people want to generate ideas and are willingly supportive of each other once again demonstrated that you don't have to wait for ideas to SUDDENLY come.

Posted by: Robert_Alan Black [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 2, 2011 12:19 PM

Mitch

Interesting list.

Enjoyed reading it. May I share it with a couple audiences next week with full reference and credit to you and your blog?

Over the years I have done similar LIST collections using the internet.

Most of your 100 appeared on my LISTS except for the most recent ones due to the creation of new electronic distractors: Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, etc.

When I asked the perpetual question:

Where and When you get your ideas?

during a idea facilitation with scientists and technical people in South Africa in October I got the usual:

in the shower
in the bath
doing something else
watching tv
playing games or sports
driving
riding my bike
walking
running
etc.

none said...."AT WORK"

none said ...

"AT MY WORK STATION,
IN MY LAB,
AT MY DESK,
IN MY CUBICLE,
IN A MEETING"

then during the next 3 hours we proceeded to generate many ideas for a very serious problem their research center is being asked to work on

"ROBBERY OF ATM MACHINES"

using idea generation tools and techiques in an open environment where the people want to generate ideas and are willingly supportive of each other once again demonstrated that you don't have to wait for ideas to SUDDENLY come.

Posted by: Robert_Alan Black [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 2, 2011 12:20 PM

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