The Eight Emotional Barriers to Creativity and Innovation


Creativity and innovation are critical to any organization’s success.  This statement is so obvious it almost doesn’t require commentary. Yet creativity is often elusive, for individuals and for organizations. While there are skills that you can learn and employ to become better at various parts of the creative process, there are some barriers that aren’t really about skill building at all.

These are emotional barriers, and while they might not be immediately seen, they are as real as anything you can see and touch. As a leader, you must understand these barriers for yourself and how pervasive many of them may be in your organization.

Let’s look and then talk about what you can do about them.

The Emotional Barriers

I’m not creative. While you might think this is factual rather than emotional, you’d largely be wrong. Tons of research tells us we all have the potential and capacity to be creative, though we often don’t express creativity because we are out of practice, lack confidence, or “believe” we aren’t creative (among other things). This belief then is emotionally driven not factual. As a leader, you can provide people with tools, opportunities, reasons and encouragement to be more creative. This is, in fact, one of the most valuable things you can do for others in your leadership role.

No one cares about my ideas.  When you are thinking and feeling this way, it isn’t that you don’t have ideas, it is that you aren’t confident enough in yourself or in your relationships with others to share ideas.   When people you are leading feel this way, trying to train them on “how to be more creative” won’t bring forth ideas, just another emotion, frustration!

It isn’t worth the humiliation or ridicule.  If you think someone won’t agree with your ideas or will think they are stupid, how often would you share ideas?  Only the most personally convicted and those most immune to the feelings of others would persist here.  People are very unlikely to put themselves in situations where they believe they will be embarrassed or ridiculed.

It is futile anyway. This is a bigger “I give up” emotion that leaves you feeling, what is the use?  If might be related to “they don’t care” or “they won’t like it,” but it is more than that.  The futility feeling in this case leaves you feeling like a victim.  You may think there is nothing you can do about it anyway, or “they don’t really want new ideas, because they have already decided on a course of action anyway.”

It’s not worth the risk to share my ideas.  There is risk everywhere in sharing your ideas with others.  Maybe they want to hear them.  Maybe they really do care.  Maybe your idea is a good one.  But why would you take that risk?  Maybe it just isn’t worth it to find out.

It probably won’t work anyway. This is otherwise known as the fear of making a mistake.  The possibility of a mistake is inherent in any new idea.  If you are concerned about how you will be perceived if you make a mistake, or if you wonder what the repercussions of a mistake might be, you are likely not to offer the idea, to avoid the potential mistake.

They’ll make me responsible.  Even if you believe they will care, believe the idea is a good one, and are comfortable with the risk of a mistake, you still may not share your idea.  Why?  Because you think that you will be assigned with implementing the idea and you are already too busy!  This emotional barrier is one that is sometimes talked about – and even laughed about.  Remember there is typically truth in jest – this emotion is real and may be robbing your organization of valuable and needed ideas.

I’m worried – about something related to the situation.  This may seem like a catch all – in part because it is.  Any of the items above while emotional in nature themselves can also add to a sense of worry.  Add the fact that there are many other potential things you might be worried about related to new ideas – including change, confidence, and how the innovation might impact on your relationships.  The reality is that worry itself, regardless of the source, has a negative on most all parts of job performance, including your ability to be creative or to innovate.

All of these mental barriers relate to trust – trust in ourselves, in others, in the organization or perhaps the situation.  Jim Kouzes, bestselling author and leadership thinker, talks about the connection between trust and innovation this way – more trust exposes us to greater risk and innovation requires more risk.   As we have higher levels of trust, we are willing to live with the risk inherent in the relationship, in the skills of the other person and more.

Go back now and read each of the eight barriers I’ve written about.  In each you will find risk, and you will find that if trust were to grow, the ideas would more likely flow.

There are many approaches people and organizations take to correct or overcome the lack of innovation. While these approaches are valuable, the bottom line is that none of them may solve the underlying barrier to greater innovation in your organization.

As a leader, take a look in the mirror.  Are you offering and building the kind of trust that will alleviate or eliminate these barriers?  If not, and if you want greater innovation and creativity, it is time to get started.

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  1. says

    Great list, and spot on too! When looking at the emotional reasons why you don’t pursue a creative idea, it’s pretty beneficial to look at the reason why you should as well.

    Ultimately it comes down to this: the worst that can happen is your idea fails. If your ideal fails you can try something new tomorrow, it’s really not going to be the end of the world. If the idea succeeds, though, you could literally change the world, make millions, go down in the history books, etc. etc. etc.

    So, risk failing (embarrassment, adding a failure to your resume, etc.) or risk success (change the world, make money, find your true self)? You decide. :)

    • says

      Excellent point and well stated. Unfortunately, when the barriers are emotional, this logic question may not be enough to overcome the barriers… but it is an important part of the solution.

      Kevin :)


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