December 06,2019 Facilitating Innovation

Judgment Free

Judgment Free


Marketing executive, Alex Osborn, popularized the term Brainstorming in his 1953 book “Applied Imagination.” He intended to codify the conditions around enhancing group creativity. After numerous idea pitch sessions, he recognized what happened during great sessions and what occurred during terrible sessions. The key principle and finding centered on the group being judgment-free. By withholding criticism, people felt free to speak their minds and generate more creative ideas.

Social Status

To produce ideas, one must think. To verbalize ideas, they must feel safe and comfortable. This consists of a high level of vulnerability as fears of social judgment loom over most corporate institutions. If a person feels that their social status will be impacted they will not share with the team, nor will they share with the organization.

This conundrum brings the realization of the number of ideas that teams silence each year. The goal of knowledge workers is to produce unique solutions and insights. The organizational goal is for them to express all ideas especially the wild ones. However, this application fails nine out of ten times due to the limitations of group creativity. Because of the potential social status impacts negate team vulnerability to express those ideas that people would say is insane. If a leader and team can keep judgment out of the workplace, they can foster a culture that mass produces ideas.

Invasion of Teamwork

Teamwork and group work has invaded all corporate America. Professionals are forced to work in teams, teams that stunt ideas because of social pressure. Social status is real and has permanent long-term effects on peoples’ careers. This protective behavior is hard-wired into the human brain starting off in elementary school, status converts to a tradeable commodity that people go a long way to protect.

Social Judgement

By voicing thoughts, opinions, and more dangerously ideas, the threat level increases. Because people don’t want to look dumb or feel dumb in front of their peers. This creates the fear that they will lose status with poor ideas and will slide down the social status ladder. Their peers will no longer be their peers but their superiors.

When faced with the option of speaking up or staying silent, human nature defaults to the safety of silence. There is a risk involved. True creativity will never flourish if there is a possibility that their peers could say “that’s dumb” or from their boss “that’s not practical.” The goal of the leader shifts to building an environment where this judgment doesn’t occur.

Practical Application

  • A natural reaction to management is critique and judgment. The pure managerial tool consists of establishing high standards and quality. However, this culture calls for management restraint and being hyper-sensitive to first reactions.
  • This new leader needs to focus on interactions, large and small. Do your casual and formal conversations help feed dialogue or do they jump straight to critical feedback. This focus extends to the team and do their words and actions elicit ideas or shut them down.
  • Be consistent with acknowledging and rewarding behaviors that help the team open up and quickly correct judgmental behaviors and cliques that shut ideas out.

Gravity Payments

In 2004 Dan and brother Lucas Price co-founded Gravity Payments. As a result of technology, the quick transformation of the credit card payment process and the brothers spotted an opportunity for small businesses. By offering low prices and better services, Gravity grew rapidly over a four-year time frame.

However, 2008 brought upon the recession which heavily impacted Gravity’s client base and their business. Their business growth flatlined resulting in their freezing wages to keep the company afloat. The economy and Gravity recovered eventually yet costs and wages stayed flat.

Dan Price

While Gravity continued to grow profits CEO Dan Price took it upon himself to address social inequality. He decided that the minimum wage for every employee would be $70,000 per year. To help fund the salary increases for their greater than 100 employees, he cut his own salary from $1.1 million to the minimum $70,000.

Dan Price had many reasons for the transformational shift. First of all, talent acquisition played a role where a week after the announcement 4,500 new resumes inundated Price. Talent now finds them instead of the other way around. Also, new clients were attracted to the platform as new clients joined the service with Gravity’s revenue doubling at twice the previous rate. However, there was also a social justice of valuing the employee as well. Price’s belief in not establishing levels or authority and judgment in the culture has brought forward a sustaining corporate model.


Keegan, P. (2019, December 3). Hence, Here’s What Really Happened at That Company That Set a $70,000 Minimum Wage. Retrieved from

Osborn, A. (1953). Because of Applied Imagination: Principles and Procedures of Creative Problem Solving. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Watson, M. (2018). Another Common Strategies and Practices Among Facilitators of Innovative Thinking in Organizations. Ann Arbor, MI: ProQuest.

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