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How To Encourage Creativity At Work

Successful creative people, who have written about their creative thinking, agree that quick negative criticism has a devastating effect on new ideas, a point Albert Einstein made in his biography
Illustrative photo of shelves filled with books. (CC BY 2.0 Stewart Butterfield/Wikipedia)
Illustrative photo of shelves filled with books. (CC BY 2.0 Stewart Butterfield/Wikipedia)

When presented with another person’s new idea, most people make a negative comment under the guise of honest criticism, devil’s advocate, or constructive criticism. Indeed, quick negative criticism afflicts our society. “You don’t want me to lie,” they say.

Yet such instant criticism spoils creative thinking. Only the toughest risk takers will volunteer to share the first-stage, half-baked ideas that most of us have.

Successful creative people, who have written about their creative thinking, agree that quick negative criticism has a devastating effect on new ideas. Albert Einstein made this point in his autobiography.

Of all the ways to spoil creativity, quick negative criticism heads the list. Still, you have to give honest opinions about new ideas. Some ways to do this without spoiling creative thinking and stifling people’s desire to present new ideas follow:

Suppose a people brings you an idea he likes very much. How should you respond? Very carefully, I hope.

First, you should be thinking that whatever the idea’s flaws, you need to trust this person. Consider that the new idea has merit. After all, its proposer thinks so.

Second, you do not want to discourage this person and other people from bringing you ideas and proposals in the future. Indeed, you want to encourage idea-sharing.

Third, you do not want this people to leave feeling resentful because you rejected his/her idea out of hand.

Finally, you want people to tell you about their ideas without feeling defensive, or under pressure. Change the hot seat into a positive creative climate.

Given all this, you do NOT say: “That’s a lousy idea.”


We usually expect sellers of ideas to present their ideas in perfect form. No half-baked, half-developed ideas for us. Every “i” dotted, every “t” crossed, every concept clear, every label and term used correctly, with no errors of spelling or grammar.

In other words, we expect them to help us before we help their idea. Beware. Creative ideas rarely appear in perfect form, and negative consequences occur if you insist on this. People will expend valuable time and effort toward perfection. Besides, few of us have training in selling ideas anyway.

How can you help the submission of new ideas? In my creative thinking workshop I recommend the following:


You will find ‘yes-if’ easy to use. Curb your automatic NO, and say: “Yes, if…,” and then describe the conditions needed to get from NO to a conditional YES. Watch the climate change from a negative one that deters creative thinking to a positive, idea-helping climate.

Let’s see how you might use ‘yes-if.’

Say… “YES,” there are many interesting and useful features about this idea, “IF, we can improve this snag…”

Clear, supportive, and crisp. Very useful when hearing ideas on the run.

Say What’s Good About The Idea First

If yes-if isn’t comfortable, you might use “What’s Good About It” and state three positive statements first.

Pretend Your Boss Presented The Idea

Or, you could pretend your boss presents any idea you hear, and devise your own idea-helping approach. Your attitude counts a great deal when you help ideas. Increased idea sharing and better idea improvement will result.

Other statements to encourage new ideas include:

• That seems like a useful idea. Can we build on it?

• A good start. How can we help it?

• Describe that in more detail. Tell me more about it.

• How can we make this work?

• Tell me what you are thinking.

• I like your idea. How we can get over this particular difficulty.

• That idea has value. Let’s get the bugs out.

• You may well be right. Still, let us look at it another way.

Quick Spoilers Of Creative Thinking

The more polite alternatives to ‘yes-if’ and “What’s good about it” include the following quick idea spoilers (ideocide):

• It’s already been proposed.

• We’ve never done it that way before… or We tried that before.

• If it ain’t broke, why fix it.

• We don’t need any more new ideas around here. What we need are more doers and implementers, etc.

• The problem with that idea is…

• We don’t have the money …

• We haven’t the personnel.

• What will they think?

• We would have suggested it before if it were any good.

• We’re too small for that … or We’re too big for that.

• We have too many ideas already.

• It has been the same for a long time; so, it must be good.

• I just know it won’t work.

• That’s not our problem.

• You’ll never sell that to …

• Why something new now?

Stop using these quick spoilers. They have many detrimental effects.

First, many people suppress and stop expressing their ideas.

Second, creative people stop being creative.

Third, some people become defensive and apologetic, and shoot-down their own ideas before anyone else does.

Finally, some people tend to do things the same old safe, complacent way instead of taking risks, shifting paradigms, and turning half-baked, half-developed, bizarre ideas into winners.

Not all new ideas pan out, of course; but unless you deliberately and relentlessly help develop new ideas, they perish, and complacency takes over.

And for other ways to encourage creativity, check out my book:


How To Use Your Inventiveness To Brighten Your Life.” 


©2016 by Ed Glassman


Ed Glassman, Professor Emeritus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, founded the Program For Team Excellence And Creativity at the university. He led scores of problem-solving creativity meetings and creative thinking workshops-seminars for many large and small companies. He was a ‘Guggenheim Foundation Fellow’ at Stanford University, a ‘Visiting Fellow’ at the ‘Center For Creative Leadership’ in Greensboro, NC, a Visiting Professor at the University Of California at Irvine, and a Visiting Scientist at SRI International in Palo Alto, California.

His book: “Team Creativity At Work I & II: Creative Problem Solving At Its Best,” is available: CLICK here OR HERE.

His book: “R&D CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION HANDBOOK: A Practical Guide To Improve Creative Thinking and Innovation Success At Work” is available.   CLICK here  OR HERE

About the Author
Ed Glassman, Ph.D., is professor emeritus and former head of the "Program for Team Effectiveness and Creativity," in the medical school of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was also a visiting fellow at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina.
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