Creative ideas can come from anyone, anywhere, at any time. Those ideas often involve taking a risk or challenging conventional thinking. And that can be daunting to those who are perfectly satisfied with the status quo.

But in my view, creativity is a trait that should be celebrated and encouraged. Innovation never happened by supporting the same old, same old.

We can’t imagine living without the benefits reaped from some bold, creative thinking. Fortunately, determined innovators prevailed, often in the face of mass indifference or mockery. But here are a few prime examples of what might not have happened if folks listened to the naysayers.

“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us,” according to a Western Union internal memo dated 1876.

Silent-film star Charlie Chaplin said, “Moving pictures need sound as much as Beethoven symphonies need lyrics.”

An engineer at IBM in 1968 commented on the microchip, “But what is it good for?”

The aeronautical engineering department of Cambridge University’s response to Frank Whittle, after viewing his pioneering designs for the jet engine, “Very interesting, Whittle, my boy, but it will never work.”

“Television won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night,” said pioneering American movie executive Darryl F. Zanuck.

Phil Wrigley, one of the owners of the Chicago Cubs, said about night baseball in 1935, “Just a fad, a passing fancy.” (In 1988, the Cubs at last started playing night games.)

“The personal computer will fall flat on its face in business,” said Ken Olsen, president of Digital Equipment.

Fred Smith, the founder of Federal Express, was said to have received the following response from his Yale professor on a paper outlining his idea for an overnight delivery service: “The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C,’ the idea must be feasible.”

Beware if you hear yourself uttering these statements. They are the most likely to kill creativity:

• It’s not in the budget.

• The boss will never go for it.

• Great idea! Let’s form a committee to tackle it.

• That’s against our policy.

• Who will we get to do it?

• Let’s think about it for a while.

• Let’s discuss it some other time.

• It’s too late to fix it now.

• It’s too soon to fix it now.

• We have done it this way for so many years, and we still make a profit.

• Why fix it if it isn’t broken?

• We tried it five years ago and it didn’t work.

• That’s not how we do things around here.

• It will create more work for the rest of us.

• Sounds like a good idea ... Let’s run it by legal. (OK, so this might be necessary.)

Mackay’s Moral: Don’t be afraid to be creative — be afraid not to be creative.


Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail