11 Ways to Crush Your Team’s Creativity

monty-python-footWe clamor for it, but don’t see much of it, or at least not as much as we’d like. And really, if we were pressed further, I don’t know that many of us would even know what we’re actually wanting.

It’s the ever-elusive but always romantic notion of creativity. It is the unicorn. It is the thing that will make the angels in heaven (if you believe in such things) sing or the nothingness that is beyond now continue to do and be nothing (if you believe in such things).

We — myself included — talk so much about creativity, and yet when we look around most organizations, it’s not like we’re having to tell them to pump the brakes (thanks, David Wilhelm) on the creativity. We have good intentions; I really believe that. Lots of folks in organizations all over the place want to be creative.

But upon further contemplation, rumination, and even some pontificating, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a fool’s errand. Yes indeed. It’s bunk. Unicorn doodoo. Rubbish. Crap. BS. Or just regular S.

backstreet-boysI think many of us are far closer to being able to eliminate all the creativity talk from the vernacular at our organizations than being able to see actual creativity flourish in any meaningful way within our organizations. So let’s just crush it. As some lyrical geniuses once serenaded us, “Quit playing games with my heart.” Let’s not play games with creativity’s heart. Let’s break it instead.

Here’s how I propose we do that. (PS. You’re welcome, for putting that Backstreet Boys song in your head for the rest of the day.)

1. Provide your team no feasible time to exercise creative effort.

You know what I mean, right? I mean, don’t stop saying you want them to be creative, but make sure they don’t actually have any time to do that. Their days need to be so jam-packed with other stuff that the most creative thing they’re doing is figuring out how to fit in a restroom break.

2. Provide them no outlet for their creative energy.

It’s important that the team not have any outlet for their creativity. There shouldn’t be anywhere to go to exert creative energy, and there shouldn’t be any particular business problems for which you want them to create solutions.

3. Don’t give them time to think.

Related to #1 above, time to think is terrible, because that’s often where good ideas come from, especially if more than one person has time to think at the same time. And God forbid they’re together when they do it. Then you’ll have this whole mess with them coming up with ideas, you saying no, them coming back with another idea, you saying no, etc.

12381a9acbc88cf25558485a4b8d4bc64. Don’t challenge them to be creative.

For heaven’s (if you believe in such things) sake, do not under any circumstances challenge a clump of humans to be creative. There’s something in people that seems to come alive when provoked by a challenge. They’re able to muster creativity that even they may not have known they had. Clearly we don’t want that. Plus, if you challenge them to be creative, it could be misconstrued as you supporting creativity in a tangible way; and we’ve already established that we do not desire that.

5. Don’t give them “permission” to try things.

Always encourage them to play it safe. Now, don’t come right out and say, Don’t be creative and try new things. Be more subtle. When someone tries something and it doesn’t work, crush them (subtly). When someone throws out an idea that seems off the wall, literally throw that person off the wall. The latter isn’t as subtle either, but will still get the point across. That point is that it’s not safe to try new things.

dead-twitter-bird-20110107-0939006. Block social media.

You simply cannot have them being exposed to thoughts and ideas from all over the world. You never know when one of those pesky ideas will latch itself onto your employee’s brain stem with such determination that he or she won’t be able to rest until he or she has made that idea happen.

You also don’t want them communicating with so many different sorts of people. Who knows who these people are? How can you be sure they’re only straight-laced business folks like you need your employees to be? There are undoubtedly bad influences lurking behind every tweet. Like artists, for example.

7. Be sure to schedule their entire day full of meetings and/or tasks.

Remember, free time is wasted time. If people have time to sit still for even a few minutes other than to cram food down their throats (preferably while still working), their minds might be freed to actually think. Thinking is to be avoided at all costs. I know I try to avoid it.

8. In other words, do not set aside time for people to think and collaborate.

To be clear: You don’t want employees to have the time or space or permission to tackle problems together. One person’s creativity is often contagious, and believe me — that’s the last thing you need. Call the CDC if you suspect an outbreak.

JustSayNo19. Make “No” the default answer to new ideas.

It’s just simpler this way. You don’t have to think about the ideas; and the employees learn first not to get their hopes up, and eventually not to offer ideas at all. We would consider this a win.

10. Don’t acknowledge creative ideas that work for the organization.

Look, sometimes things get away from us and in spite of our best efforts, some crazy idea sneaks through and wouldn’t you be darned — it worked. Damage control time. The best thing to do — a best practice, if you will — is to ignore it altogether. Just act like you experienced the success through the regular course of business. You see, if you start pointing out when people’s creativity creates positive outcomes for the organization, you run the risk of them mistaking that for you actually encouraging creativity, which would be awful of course.

11. Don’t encourage the oddballs.

Remember when your parents said that whole “Don’t laugh; it only encourages him” thing? (Or was it only mine that said that to everyone else after I did something funny/mischievous?) Same principle applies here. If there are people within your organization who are a little different or quirky or creative or unorthodox, do not — I repeat, do not — encourage them. In fact, frown at them whenever they look in your general direction. Like literally frown.

If you can do these things, you stand a pretty good chance of crushing creativity on your team and within your organization. Just make sure you don’t try anything new to crush the creativity. Only tried and true creativity-crushing methods are appropriate.

14 thoughts on “11 Ways to Crush Your Team’s Creativity

  • Amen, brother Matt (if you believe in that Amen stuff). Thanks. See you at the next creativity crushing meeting.

  • Good stuff this brainstorming ! I was once involved in implementing a suggestion given to engineering from a suggestion program involving pavement markings for water meters and utilities. This suggestion brought a good bit of positive publicity to the maker of the suggestion (a roads and grounds foreman who more times than not had to have instructions explained to him more than once) and
    some of my billed time (the boss really never made it a project or gave me a charge number) for mine and my associates time. Needless to say the foreman who made the suggestion got the recognition and my associate I sweat-ed our butts off making sure this idea was
    supplied the necessary time, equipment. and material to get it done. We also had to check to make sure that each of the markers were located and installed correctly!
    So not to be out done I quickly; over the course of the next several months dropped several of my own suggestions into the box using the suggestion forms provided by the company. I just felt I would like some of the notoriety from the Company newspaper. I figured I deserved some similar recognition since mine and my associates efforts had brought recognition to the roads and grounds foreman.
    My engineering manager, knowing the psychology behind these forms, held my several suggestion forms until he had collected at least four of them! Then
    he called me into his office showed me the forms I had submitted and asked me to acknowledge that I had written these suggestions!
    The conversation then went something like this – These forms are not to be used by engineering. The efforts that our organization has to expend to implement these ideas are something that we do every day on a regular basis
    for our client. Take these forms and go see one of our facility planners to make sure any of these ideas which are creditable for future projects are submitted for implementation by us for our client. From now on if you have any ideas for improvements to our operation go see planning and use their forms to submit your ideas. “Engineers do not suggest changes, they implement
    changes for our client.”
    After that in the next five years, I probably implemented over $20 million worth of new ideas and changes to the base and our operations for which my
    name was never ever mentioned in the company paper.
    I would have to guess that today these efforts are still performing in a positive manner following my suggestions.

  • For me, the opportunity to squelch creativity, comes when the budget crushes the use of colorful media for promoting programs for clients and in not having the options to use technology and the world wide web as a resource for clients or for creating web-based newsletters! At least that’s been overlooked for bereavement support, but it’s out there in many non-profit hospices.

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