How Negativity Kills More Than Innovation

You all know that person (or persons) within your organization – the nay-sayer or the very negative person – who seems to take great glee in shooting down ideas?

You know the kind of person that I’m talking about, the type of person that doesn’t just shoot down ideas, they cast a pall on everyone and everything around them.

People tip-toe around them – try to appease them but never seem to be able to – or they try to be kind to them and butter them up, only to be slammed down. More often than not, these people are also very critical of everything brought to them, and even if they find something of note, its damned with faint praise. While some areas of your organization may benefit from people like this (such as accounts receivable or legal), they have no place in your innovation group.

In my view, there are two distinct kinds of innovation groups. One group hews to the corporate vision, never envisioning anything too far afield of the current focus. The other does the opposite – they look at the future of their current and potential customers and generate products and services, which could be very different from what the company is providing today.

In either case, a very negative person will kill ideas in both environments.

However, they will likely do much more damage in the latter setting. That kind of negativity should be restricted to a tiny subset of individuals within your organization and be given very little power – since their attitudes affect everyone within their radius.

Innovation and new product development, in my view, require an optimistic mindset. They require the ability to imagine a better future for your customers and then work to build that vision. It requires the ability to look at the future in a positive light and drive towards your customer’s delight. It is challenging, if not impossible, to have such a negative team member as part of this team – unless they happen to be in the later stages of review.

But I ask you, does anyone enjoy working with overly negative people in general? Do you think that most people prefer to be in the presence of pleasant individuals or unpleasant ones? The problem is much deeper than merely suppressing innovation by allowing these negative personalities to flourish within your organization.

They not only color your employee’s vision of your organization; this perspective seeps into your corporate culture. When your people attrit, what will they say about their experience within your company? When you go out to bring in new hires, will these fresh faces prefer to work in a negative environment or a positive one? For the overall health of your organization, it’s best to keep those negative employees away from your crucial leadership and management roles, unless they are in specific, select groups, far away from the general population.

At the risk of being controversial, I’d say: why hire them at all? Do we really need more negativity in the workplace, no matter how great a contributor they are? If you think about the health of your innovation group and your company overall – are you better off with or without them?


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