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How to Combat “Anti-Innovation” Culture

How to Combat “Anti-Innovation” Culture

Gartner: Don’t Let These 10 “Innovation-Killing” Phrases Hinder Your Company

November 11, 2014

Too often, CIOs and other IT professionals find themselves trapped in a stagnant tech environment due to change-resistant management or an anti-innovation culture.

In these situations (especially in already outdated environments), IT professionals face the challenge of enabling technology-related innovation by eliminating cultural inhibitors to change – by combating common clichés against progress through innovation.

Luckily, Gartner has a few ways to bypass the old adages and facilitate progress for your business.

Check out Gartner’s list* of the most common “innovation-killing” phrases, complete with analyses and effective responses to kick-start technological improvements.


How to Respond to Common “Innovation-Killing” Phrases


Common Phrase When It Is a Problem How to Combat
“We tried that – It doesn’t work.” Discourages future ideas while disregarding the fast-paced nature of the technology industry. Ask for details of these past efforts. Remind naysayers that, in the technology world, much can change in just a few years.
“Digital is for younger generations.” Often used as an excuse for inaction, relieving older management from effort and involvement. Provoke discussion and debate by citing real-life examples. Make it clear that this statement is only partly true, and ignoring digital mediums can be dangerous.
“Ideas are easy; execution is hard.” Those who manage large departments often put off other contributors (and more creative minds) with this statement. Call out the actual details of past executions in question. Ask about and analyze the last great idea that failed in execution.
“Even Google canceled 20% time.” Suggests that innovation exploration can be done without consuming any time (Google engineers used to receive time to pursue their own innovation projects). Encourage an environment that balances active innovation with daily responsibilities. Question what innovation habit could be created to allow for more creativity.
“Only Silicon Valley startups do that.” Implies that competitors couldn’t possibly be using modern digital business innovation techniques. Point out that innovation techniques used by Silicon Valley firms can be (and have increasingly been) copied.
“You need experience first.” Devalues innovation ideas coming from fresh eyes, throwing away a good resource for progressive action. Question the status quo and existing assets, reminding people how real innovation has happened throughout history.
“Corporate won’t like it.” Especially for junior staff, the ominous idea of “corporate” can be unsettling and off-putting in terms of innovation. Directly address these concerns, encouraging discussion and even involvement from corporate.
“That’s not the business we’re in.” Ignores the fact that old, established business models can be suddenly undermined in today’s tech industry. Emphasize that this is a time when your enterprise must see and seize the next space before someone else.
“We’ll talk about that another time.” May be dissuasive and strongly undermine innovation culture if it’s not actually addressed later. Make sure there actually is a list and a working process for future discussion topics.
“Fast follower has proven best.” Underestimates the difficulty of being a true fast follower: Deciding not to lead can make you too slow/unresponsive to achieve second or third place. Don’t question management insight itself, but instead question its lazy repetition.
Based on a report by Gartner, Inc.*


A Few Examples

From Gartner's report, “10 Innovation-Killing Phrases That CIOs Should Refute." *

From Gartner’s report, “10 Innovation-Killing Phrases That CIOs Should Refute.” *


Put Into Practice

While Gartner’s research is certainly a good start, it’s a good idea to start applying these phrases to your own company or industry (and maybe even take it a few steps further):


Listen and Note

Practice listening to your coworkers in meetings, and make a note every time you hear an innovation-suppressing statement. Note the phrase, the speaker, and the other people in the room who nod and murmur in support.


Build a List

Create a shortlist of those phrases, and add them to the ones presented in this research.


Brainstorm Responses

Using our standard rebuffs as a model, develop two or three of your own local phrases. Practice delivering retorts to common anti-innovation phrases.


Fight “Anti-Innovation” Culture

Facilitate change by calling attention to the number of times coworkers and peers use a forbidden term or phrase that hinders innovation.

Gartner suggests trying to operate an anti-innovation phrase “swear jar” for a while (a small box or jar that people must put money into, as a penalty whenever they curse or use a forbidden term or phrase). Sometimes, this can help make light of the situation and accelerate change in group behavior.


Use Responses

The trick is to do this “gradually, repeatedly, politely and without ire” — use one of the responses every time you hear a trite anti-innovation phrase. Keep doing it over a period of months, until the passive supporters nod and murmur more in response to you, than to the anti-innovation wise guys.


* Raskino, Mark. “10 Innovation-Killing Phrases That CIOs Should Refute,” Gartner, Inc. 24 October 2014.

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