Harvey Mackay Academy's Blog

Creative ideas can come from anyone, anywhere, at any time. Those ideas often involve taking a risk or challenging conventional thinking. And that can be daunting to those who are perfectly satisfied with the status quo.

But in my view, creativity is a trait that should be celebrated and encouraged. Innovation never happened by supporting the same old, same old.

We can’t imagine living today without the benefits reaped from some bold, creative thinking. Fortunately, despite the fact that a lot of people shot creative ideas down, determined innovators prevailed. But here are a few prime examples of what might not have happened if folks listened to the naysayers.

“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us,” according to a Western Union internal memo dated 1876.

Silent film star Charlie Chaplin said, “Moving pictures need sound as much as Beethoven symphonies need lyrics.”

“I do not believe the introduction of motor-cars will ever affect the riding of horses,” said Scott-Montague, MP, in the United Kingdom in 1903.

An engineer at IBM in 1968 commented on the microchip, “But what is it good for?”

Cambridge University Aeronautical Engineering Department’s response to Frank Whittle, after viewing his pioneering designs for the jet engine, “Very interesting, Whittle, my boy, but it will never work.”

“Television won’t be able to hold onto any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night,” said American movie great – executive Darryl F. Zanuck.

Phil Wrigley, one of the owners of the Chicago Cubs, said in commenting on night baseball in 1935, “Just a fad, a passing fancy.” (In 1988, the Cubs at last started playing night games.)

“The personal computer will fall flat on its face in business,” said Ken Olsen, president of Digital Equipment.

Fred Smith, the founder of Federal Express, received the following response from his Yale professor on a paper outlining his idea for an overnight delivery service: “The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C,’ the idea must be feasible.”

Advertising genius Alex Osborn integrated creativity with everything he did – every day. Considered the “father of brainstorming” – a term he helped coin in 1939 – Osborn devoted his life to promoting and teaching creative thinking. And the fiercest enemy of creativity, he believed, was criticism: “Creativity is so delicate a flower that praise tends to make it bloom, while discouragement often nips it in the bud. Any of us will put out more and better ideas if our efforts are appreciated.”

Beware if you hear yourself uttering these statements. They are the most likely to kill creativity:

  • It’s not in the budget.
  • The boss will never go for it.
  • Great idea! Let’s form a committee to tackle it.
  • It will never work.
  • That’s against our policy.
  • Who will we get to do it?
  • Let’s think about it for a while.
  • Let’s discuss it some other time.
  • Why not leave well enough alone?
  • It’s too late to fix it now.
  • It’s too soon to fix it now.
  • We have done it this way for so many years, and we still make a profit.
  • Why fix it if it isn’t broken?
  • We tried it five years ago and it didn’t work.
  • That’s not how we do things around here.
  • That’s the kind of idea that cost your predecessor her job.
  • It will take a long time to research this idea.
  • That’s not my job.
  • The competition already does it that way.
  • The competition doesn’t do it that way.
  • Let’s let the competition try it first and see what happens.
  • That isn’t in our job descriptions.
  • If we do it, they’ll wonder why we didn’t do it sooner.
  • It will create more work for the rest of us.
  • Sounds like a good idea . . . Let’s run it by legal. (Okay, so this actually might be necessary.)

Mackay’s Moral: Don’t be afraid to be creative – be afraid not to be creative. 

About the Author

Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.