Worst culture: Good ideas are seen as a threat

Bad Culture = No Time For New Ideas

Bad Culture = No Time For New Ideas

You ever have a moment at any job you’ve ever held where you send out an e-mail with a good idea, or propose a good idea at a meeting, and a bunch of people just stare at you — or ignore the e-mail? I’ve had approximately 17,191 of these moments in the last decade (you know, give or take). They’re always infuriating. I’m not actually saying all my ideas are good — many are horrible — and there’s a weird thing with ideas in that if no one actually takes you up on them, they’re technically not good, because an idea can’t have power unless it’s ultimately executed, right? (Philosophy for you right there.)

I actually just had one of these moments 2-3 days ago, actually.

Came across this article on Forbes and it makes a couple of good points. Here’s maybe the best:

I had a boss who would react with a long-suffering sigh whenever I suggested making any kind of change at work, no matter how small. He would say “Put that idea in the Someday File.”

“Why?” I asked him. “Why can’t we explore this idea, which could really help us?” My boss would sigh and walk away.

I didn’t understand in my twenties that my manager didn’t want to think. He didn’t want to work any harder than he had to. He had already gone to sleep on his job and his career. He didn’t want to rouse himself to think about doing anything new. There are a lot of people like that in the business world!

Yes and no. It’s true that there are a ton of people like that in the business world — I’ve worked with about six dozen of them — but the bigger issue is that your boss is usually always on the lookout for threats. That’s how the brain works.

Good ideas are a threat to a lot of people, honestly. A good idea might mean to a manager that they’re on the verge of getting replaced, or someone is coming for them, or whatever the case may be. Work is essentially a fraught exercise in relationship-building and chasing semi-pointless deliverables that someone has deemed “important” because they have a chance of making some money. And then we all buy into this “work is virtue” narrative and leave 430 million vacation days on the table. It’s dumb.

The thing you need to remember is that your culture — how your org functions, essentially — should be open and transparent, but that’s very hard for a lot of managers: they see people as threats, they don’t want to lose their perch, they barely tell their own employees what’s expected of them, they spend most of their time holed up with other managers chasing financial metrics, and, honestly, they could give about 0.5 shits about your career development.

Work is predominantly about keeping on and getting on — to your next promotion or whatever it may be. Good ideas or new change or whatever have no role in that for most people. Sad, but true.

Ted Bauer


  1. I appreciate the threat point, but for most I’ve found it’s either incompetence or they’ve checked out due to facing massive obstacles in the past. At my last job I had two major challenges to deal with. One, the owners were a bunch of screaming, abusive, vile excuses for human beings. Two, their policies were outdated to the point of being Dickensian. In my seven years there my direct manager refused to take any action on even mentioning how the owner’s behavior caused so much turnover up until the very end, and that’s when I was politely asked to leave. As far as their policies, for two months before I left/was asked to leave, they finally stopped docking people vacation time for snow days when the entire state was shut down and no way to get to the office. It took seven years to get that much changed there, and several months after I left that snow day policy was re instituted. So if you think about it, in the end my manager was right, it was a waste of time. And there was no fear involved, just a recognition of the futility of trying to get morons to change their ways.

    • I agree incompetence and checking out are huge things. Incompetence is maybe the biggest, honestly … I wrote another post about that here, if you want to take a gander.

Comments are closed.