Creative People Must Be Stopped

"Innovation is a natural and desirable outcome of human interaction, yet it is systematically stopped in organizations, often by the very people who say they want it and who stand to benefit from it."

- Creative People Must Be Stopped, page 1

Innovation is as aggressively called for as it is conspired against. Often it is invariably stopped dead in its tracks. Addressing this central, universal contradiction, Creative People Must Be Stopped, adds a vital and missing step to the traditional innovation process to address this paradox.

After years of study, teaching, consulting and practical experience as a CEO of a large consumer electronics firm, Professor David Owens brings a ground-level earthiness to the study of innovation by focusing on its context to the real world – the rich, messy backdrop of human nature, organizational behavior, and tricky big-picture situations. His experiences have uncovered common problems and themes that regularly appear to challenge a new idea and the innovator promoting it. To meet it squarely head on, Owens created a “constraints analysis” methodology that can help chart out a more favorable path to increase the chances of success for the proposed innovation.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Routing out sabotage and roadblocks

"This book organizes these innovation killers into a conceptual framework that demystifies what innovation is, how it happens, and how we stop it without even trying."
- Creative People Must Be Stopped, page 1

Drawing on lessons learned from human nature, team dynamics, organizational culture and past innovation successes and failures, many of the natural roadblocks and systematic stoppages of innovation have been isolated by Owens. As he states, there is a certain “regularity to the kinds of questions that will come up”. Because of this, Owens feels there is no reason or excuse to put yourself and your innovation in a position to be unaware of oncoming torpedoes. He provides a “kind of vision correction that will enable us to see in advance the vital factors that determine our chances for success when we embark on an innovation. This is what the constraints framework is designed to provide”.

Creative People Must Be Stopped describes in detail 6 key areas and dominant types of constraints that will be the most problematic for innovation leaders:

1. Individual constraints
2. Group constraints
3. Organizational constraints
4. Industry constraints
5. Societal constraints
6. Technological constraints

“If we can identify the key constraints for a particular innovation,” writes Owen, “we can usually come up with ideas for interventions that increase the odds that our innovation will succeed.”

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Think about "the box"

"Being successful at innovation means identifying and negotiating your way through multiple levels of constraints."
- Creative People Must Be Stopped, page 226

So much is said about thinking “outside the box” that we totally forget to factor in the box that we are trying to break away from.  Akin to a Greek tragedy, this can become the fatal flaw inherent in most innovation efforts.

Owens believes the central question to focus on is: What are the biggest challenges we face in the innovations we are trying to build? Innovation efforts, he feels, can be made more strategic – ensuring better success rates – by identifying, understanding, and overcoming the particular constraints they face and building responses to them into our innovation plans.

To ensure you make constraints analysis a key component to your innovation plan, he adds steps and hardwires this analysis component throughout the traditional innovation process:

Define Intentions -> Generate new ideas -> Assess concepts -> Set direction -> Refine and resolve -> Focused implementation

Throughout the process, make sure to go through a checklist of questions that review potential innovation killer constraints at each of the 6 levels: individual, group, organizational, industry, societal, technological – they represent the box you are working to escape.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Planning for the unknowable

"Without an explicit plan for your team, you have to rely on members’ intuitive ideas about how the process of innovation should work."
- Creative People Must Be Stopped, page 233

Innovation is about “the new” and “the future”. While we cannot know anything with any certainty at the beginning of the innovation process, Owens still recommends creating a “product plan” in the form of a rolling schedule: mapping out, in advance, the kinds of general activities, time increments needed to be set aside and potential resources that can be used. You “don’t need to know exactly what we’ll be doing, just that we’ll be doing it”.  Adjustments can be made along the way.

This plan accomplishes a number of things: reduces some of the needless uncertainty for the team, makes your action plan more easily visible opening up to team input and debate, and allows you to map out your management steps and see them in context to the larger firm operating schedules and resources available, lessening any corporate conflicts. This plan should also enforce committed, vigorous and critical thinking up front, spending significant time and resources in the early stages when investment is low and when the possibility for implementing valuable changes based on new insights is high.

The product plan should be initiated by having all team members enter into a team contract, drafted by the team and signed by all members, that outline goals for the innovation project, how they will make decisions, resolve disagreements and outline what constitutes respectful behavior. Teams having these contracts in place tend to successfully resolve conflicts themselves as all members understand expectations from the start.


Creative People Must Be Stopped does a great job in answering the age-old question of ‘Why is Innovation So Hard?’ with essentially a simple answer: because we don’t anticipate in advance the inherent constraints of coming up with new ideas. Owens posits that innovation failure is “bound to happen when we rely on our vague intuitions and don’t have a clear idea of what innovation is or how it really works”. His book becomes a practical guide to a more thorough way of thinking about innovation – one that acknowledges the real world environment in which it operates before applying valuable resources of time, money and effort. It will replace frustration with a cool, practical approach.

What are the two largest constraints you face in trying to introduce a new idea?

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Bill Hortz

ABOUT Bill Hortz

I’m an independent consultant and business catalyst focused on the game-changing nature of strategic thinking, innovation creation and strategic account management...
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