Surviving deadly realities

An idea, plus action, equals innovation, and every innovation means change. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people _ roughly eight out of 10 _ dislike change. So as a creator, innovator and agent of change in an organisation, you have to overcome a strong preference for the status quo over any meaningful change.

Let's look at the default response toward new ideas, and then further investigate why people dismiss meaningful ideas. Finally, we'll look at some strategies that are effective in countering the impulse to kill ideas.

What are idea killers?

You've likely heard some or all of these statements in response to new ideas: "It won't work", "No one will like it", "Don't rock the boat", "Don't be a dreamer", "If it ain't broke, don't fix it", and "No comment". These "idea killers" are used by people who are themselves idea killers. And let's be honest. All of us _ including myself, I have to admit _ have said these things at one time or another . But why do we do it? Why do we stand in the way of positive change?

Why do people kill ideas?

When you pitch an idea to a group of people and they kill it, whose fault is that? Tempting as it is to blame the shortsightedness and lack of imagination among the idea killers, it's your fault. You either failed to sell your idea convincingly, or you failed because you disregarded the way that people actually think and act, particularly in groups.

When you pitch ideas poorly, you make it easy for people to kill even the best ideas. Poor idea pitches:

- are solely verbal;

- include a lot of jargon and complicated language;

- are lengthy and complex;

- are delivered in an arrogant, overconfident, or disrespectful way.

But even when you have designed a strong idea pitch that avoids these traps, you may still fail to gain support for your idea because you didn't consider common negative human qualities.

In his book Mastery, Robert Greene identifies human behaviours that he calls "The Seven Deadly Realities". When you pitch an idea to a group of people, according to Greene, "there will inevitably be people who have one or more of these qualities to a high enough degree that they can become very destructive."

FSelf-obsessiveness is the tendency of most of us to think first and foremost about ourselves. An idea is only good as long as it fits our own agenda and self-interests.

- Envy results from comparing ourselves to others. It springs from the self-doubts, insecurities and feelings of inferiority which make us jealous of the successes of others. Envy tempts us to look for reasons to argue against ideas we didn't produce.

- Rigidity is our inflexibility in dealing with the new. We prefer the procedures, people and ideas that we already know. Our commitment to the familiar makes us oppose every idea that upsets the well-established ways of doing things.

- Conformism is closely related to rigidity, and is our desire to conform to established routines, procedures, values, and ideas. Bold ideas that go against the dominant culture and established order upset the conformist in us, particularly if they come from eccentric, rebellious or idiosyncratic people.

- Laziness is our tendency to choose the quickest, easiest path to our goal. Greene says that lazy people may belittle a meaningful idea so that they can later adopt or adapt it and present it as their own. Inertia, the unwillingness to support an idea if it means more work, is another form of laziness.

- Flightiness is the ambivalence we feel toward the new, supporting an idea one day but opposing it the next.

- Passive aggression is grounded in our fear of direct confrontation, leading us to be silent about, or even apparently supportive of, an idea, while secretly undermining it.

Think about meetings you've attended. Can you identify the above traits in others, or in yourself? Did any good ideas fall victim to one or more of the "seven deadly realities"?

How can we counter idea-killing tendencies?

First of all, do your homework. Design your idea pitch:

- Keep it short, and use simple, plain language that everyone understands.

- Visualise your idea as a drawing or chart. Remember, "A picture is worth a thousand words."

- Tom Kelley said, "If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a prototype is worth a million words." Before pitching your idea, create a rapid prototype and ask people what's wrong with it. Repeat this until you have a mature prototype to use in your idea pitch.

- You're selling your idea, so use the tactics of effective salesmen to communicate the value of your idea. For instance, you can explain it using an appropriate metaphor, or compare old versus new.

To counter the "seven deadly realities", consider the following:

- Identify a powerful, influential person who is interested in your idea and the change it represents. Pitch the idea to this potential ally before pitching it to the full group. Once you've delivered your pitch, let your ally advocate your idea and deal with the envious, the conformists, the lazy, and the inert.

- Reduce idea theft by sharing just enough to demonstrate the value of your idea, but keep the details to yourself so others can't kill it now but later steal it and take it as their own.

- Try to understand the organisational culture and adapt yourself and your pitch to it. This will increase the chances of success, both for your idea and for yourself.

Dr Detlef Reis is the Founding Director and Chief Ideator of Thinkergy Limited (, the Innovation Company in Asia. He is also a University Lecturer for Business Creativity and Creative Leadership at the College of Management, Mahidol University ( He can be reached at

About the author

Writer: Detlef Reis
Position: founding director of Thinkergy Limited