Why are some firms so opposed to creativity/innovation?

Written by Thomas Lileford on 27 February 2015

Hi all,

I was having a conversation with my cousin yesterday who was bemoaning old procedures in his organisation hindering growth. To be honest I was shocked to hear this. I thought it was becoming more common knowledge that we needed to adapt to embrace new opportunities, obviously not. Primarily I guess that this is still a leadership issue and we need to help change mindsets. Do you agree?


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Submitted on 28 February, 2015 - 09:49

Well Thomas, that's a good question, it reminds me of school uniforms, bells ringing and restrictive rules 'n regulations set by people who are older and supposedly wiser.  I spent nearly 12 years in the pharmaceutical industry which, as you probably know, is addicted to procedures (happily known as SOPs) and for fundamentally good reasons: procedures help ensure accuracy, attention to detail, consistency, transparency and facilitate investigation if things go wrong.  These are all fundamental to an industry which guarantees quality, safety and purity of product.  

On saying that, I became increasingly frustrated when the SOP principles were also applied to areas of the business such as HR and T&D, in a very restrictive way, ultimately repressing, as you quite rightly outline: challenge, change, new ways of doing things better (what does it say in the SOP? But the SOP has always worked well, so why would we not follow it?  But our QA Auditors say we must adhere to the SOP etc… - the fear that Auditors of SOPs instil is undescribable!) innovation, creative thinking, diverse methods of approach....  Everything and everyone, becomes governed by procedure and the mindset, upon which the organisation is built, is in place for all disciplines. This has led companies to miss out on new directions, to avoid taking risks with new ideas, to hold back on exploring different avenues and can lead them to be stagnant, which in a highly competitive world, means loss of market share.  

So. my take on your question is that procedures are very important for areas of the business that require them, but.... watch out for the mindset that becomes addicted to procedures because it can strangle the growth, development and freedom that the business requires to take advantage of new ideas and embrace diversity.  There is no procedure for change, innovation and creativity!

Anne Marie


Submitted on 3 March, 2015 - 09:05

Hi Thomas,

I'd be inclined to agree with Anne Marie's comments. It's human nature to become uncomfortable when confronting potential change agents. A lot of us don't like being pushed out of our comfort zone even though that's what is needed.

I do also agree that some firms still do have strict policies and procedures in place which hamper growth. Worrying considering the myriad of research out there that reveals the benefits of embracing creativity and innovation.

There needs to be a concerted effort to move past this and that stems from the top for me.



Submitted on 4 March, 2015 - 10:38

Thanks for your thought-provoking post, Thomas.  Things that came to mind for me

1.  Firms are not capable of being for or against anything - it is only the people within who have this capacity.  This builds on your suggestion that it is a leadership issue.  Not sure where the phrase came from, but I've heard the senior leaders in organisations being labelled as 'cultural engineers' - whatever they do individually or collectively tells the rest of the organisation what is important/what gets rewarded.

2.  How our brains work gets in the way of innovation/creativity, particularly that instigated by others.  Our brains like familiarity and certainty.  Therefore, as Geoff concludes,it is natural to have an emotional response such as fear, suspicion or mistrust to things that are new and untested.  How can this be factored into the encouragement of innovation - including getting leaders to control this natural response and be more open to listening to new ideas?

3.  Who owns the old procedures and what were they designed to achieve in the first place?  This links to Anne Marie's frustration with SOPs.  Often what happens in organisations is that processes outlive their usefulness because no-one retains ownership of them and is responsible for making sure they are doing what they should be doing when other things change.  Is it possible to find the owner and see if there is an opportunity to influence change?

Interestingly, the vast majority of major innovations in the last century were initiated in firms with fewer than 20 employees (MITI research).  Most of these were people who had escaped from stifling bureacracy!

Thanks again for stimulating my thinking about this thorny issue.



Submitted on 9 March, 2015 - 10:20

Anne Marie/Geoff/Jane,

Many thanks for your responses. I definitely agree. We need to get away from that stifling bureacracy. Jane, do you have a link to the MITI research? Most of the links I always get tend to be from CIPD/CMI so it'd be good to broaden my horizons and find out what other type of research is going on.

Thanks again to all, definitely food for thought.