There are indeed pitfalls, trapdoors and “worst practices” associated with innovation.

“Technical skill is mastery of complexity, while creativity is mastery of simplicity” – Erik Christopher Zeeman

Sometimes I wonder if all of this positive and cheerleader-like talk about the benefits of organizational creativity and innovation make me sound like a pie-eyed optimist. So… to prove that my realist-side is alive and well, I thought we’d focus on some of the ways creativity, ideation and innovation can foster unexpected and/or negative consequences:

In every creative solutioning effort, there comes a time when ideation needs to stop and a solution must be selected for further exploration. Some of you may have heard the term GEPO or “Good Enough…Press On.” Keep it in mind, and balance the need to push for the search for new ideas with the need to just move on. Remember, ideas don’t exist until you do something with them!

Conversely, sometimes we think we have the right solution early on in the ideation session because it sounds like it will solve the problem and should be easy to implement. Be particularly wary of the “easy” answer. This is a dangerous shortcut that rarely yields breakthrough solutions.

Another danger of accepting the easy way out is the temptation to just tweak the problem a bit to fit a particular solution. Face it, your problem is what it is, and to accept it or “live with part of it” just because a particular idea solves a portion of it is not really solving the full problem.

One of the most destructive things to creativity is negative reaction to ideas. You’ve heard and seen them before. They SOUND like these:

  • “That’ll never work”
  • “We tried that already”
  • “Management will never go for it”
  • “We can only afford to cut costs now”

They LOOK like these:

  • Eye rolling
  • Putting ideas on a “parking lot” sheet
  • Last item on the agenda…oops…no time left to discuss
  • Written… but never said

One of the things we have talked about previously as a danger to good innovation is the tendency to over-complicate or otherwise create a new problem while “solving” the old problem. Make sure you are addressing the real problem, not a symptom. Make sure you are addressing the whole problem, not just applying a bandaid to broken arm.

Finally, be very, very careful of “knowing too much.” It is dangerous to insert personal bias, assumptions, stereotypes and other starting points of thinking that will cloud and distort your thinking right from the beginning. This is why role-playing, or thinking outside of yourself, works so well in ideation.

So, there are a few things to watch out for when problem solving and engaging in organizational creativity. But now that you know some of the more common pitfalls and trapdoors, you can hopefully steer clear of them to bring true innovative solutions to light. And yes, I am an optimist, and I do believe that all of the world’s problems are just an idea away from the right person, with the right mindset, in the right set of conditions and circumstances.

How do you think we got to where we are today?