Idea Killers and the Fear Factor

idea killers and the fear factorFear–the true motivation behind idea killers–can ruin good ideas, plans, changes, suggestions, creativity. A lot of research has gone into the language of idea killers, but little into why these comments spring so easily to the tongue.

I found idea killer personality types and lists of deal killer phrases. What was so incredible is that for the most part each of the writers had some phrases that were not on any other writer’s lists. But throughout all the readings that went along with these lists, no one addressed the issue of fear.

Whether the idea is one a person proposes to himself or proposes to a group, someone or maybe many someones will trample it into the ground without giving the idea a fair trial. Scott Burkun in his article Idea killers: ways to stop ideas suggests that

Mostly these are used as thought inhibitors: they don’t require any thought to say. They’re used as flinch negative responses, dismissing without explanation. Unlike real critical thinking, which offers a path (e.g if you can overcome x, y and z we’ll consider it) idea killers are lazy dead ends.

This is a result of these idea killers, but again Berkun doesn’t explain the origin of this behavior.

Fearful idea killer personalities

Let’s look at idea killer personalities suggested in the article Attack of the Idea Killers. This article describes 6 idea killer personality types, but doesn’t say why people do this. Don’t get the idea that this is a psychological treatise, but maybe it’s so obvious none of the writers mentioned it. Yeah, right.

  • Personality #1 are “attention vampires” who always want to be the center of attention. They interpose themselves into every discussion and can kill a brainstorming conversation by sucking the life out of the group. Why would someone have to do that? They are afraid that they won’t get a say in whatever the topic is, they are afraid that someone else might get credit for an idea or they are afraid of anything that disrupts the status quo.
  • Personality #2 are “wet blankets”. These committee members see the flaws in any one’s suggestions, but their own. They may not be aware that they are being so totally negative, but their comments, probably don’t add anything except to dampen enthusiasm. They are afraid to try something new because it will surely fail unless it’s their idea. They are related to Personality #3 “idea assassins” who poke holes in all ideas causing the ideas to bleed to death.
  • Personality #4 are “obstructionists” who overthink so many complications and so nitpick ideas to death. They are afraid that some important information will be left out, the idea will flounder later and they will look bad.
  • Personality #5 are “dictators”. They know that the only good idea is their idea. Like the boss in Tom Fishburne’s cartoon above dictators are often the chairman of a committee or the boss. They are afraid of anyone else’s ideas or suggestions that might ruin their “bright ideas.”
  • Personality #6 are “social loafers” (and we are not talking about shoes here, folks). These people go to the meetings and sit back like clothing store manikins as if bored to tears. They don’t participate and let everyone else do the thinking. They are afraid that if they have an idea they will meet up with some of the idea killer quotes that are coming up next or they are afraid if they approve of an idea they will have to be the ones to carry it out.

Negative responses are the way a person or group shows they fear an idea.

Here are 29 idea killers

From lists that run from 28 to 103 of the negative responses I chose 29 of the more unusual. We have all heard the “yes, but” so I am not going there.

  • Would you like a pony?
  • You’re fired
  • (Laughter)/(Suppressed laughter)/(Condescending smile)/(Dirty looks)
  • (Silence)
  • But its the law
  • What are you on?
  • Can we get someone with a brain in here?
  • Don’t waste time thinking.
  • It’s not my responsibility./It isn’t your responsibility.
  • Needs more research
  • I’m not creative enough.
  • That’s future-talk.
  • Since when are you the expert?
  • Who’s going to do it?
  • Your spouse will bounce on it (Huh?)
  • It sounds too simple/It sounds too complicated.
  • So what else is new?
  • Didn’t you know there’s a recession going on?
  • Basically, I don’t like it./I hate it.
  • How in the world did you come up with that?!
  • Oh?/Oh …/Oh really!
  • Oh. I thought you were going to say something else.
  • There is no free lunch.
  • I have a better idea.
  • It’ll never sell./It’ll never work./It’ll never fly./ It doesn’t track.
  • Have you really given it much thought?
  • Try again
  • Because I said so
  • If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it./Don’t fight city hall./We’ve always done it this way.


I am afraid that I am one of those really negative response types. I know when I hear a new idea I instantaneously balk. I am striking out on my own as a content creator and my mind has replayed some of the negative responses I listed and probably the rest of the ones I didn’t list. My response to all the fear? Close my mind to all my internal idea killers and move forward into the unknown.

What do you do if you are in the presence of internal or external deal killers?

Special thanks to list makers:

  1. Gijs van Wulfen for 28 Idea Killers
  2. Scott Berkun for Idea killers: ways to stop ideas
  3. Idea Killers – Freedom School
  4. Reading: Top 40 Idea Killer Phrases – UNITAR
  5. Miel Van Opstan for 29 Idea Killers

ghostwriter, blogger, social mediaAnn Mullen has been a “paid writer” for the last 20-something years since she began writing for a newspaper in South Texas in the early 1990s. From 2011 through 2015, Ann worked with several marketing agencies where she learned she loves the creative side of inbound marketing. Researching, creating gripping text and coming up with engaging images for the various media are her passion.

She has now struck out on her own as a freelance writer. You can find her by emailing her at, on Facebook, on Twitter at Ann Mullen@AnnMullen4, on Google+ or by calling 512 278 8288.


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