Facing Opposition as an Innovator

By Kathleen Listman

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

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As a child, when I first sat down to watch a series of Mickey Mouse shorts on Sunday night, I had no idea that the light-hearted old man who introduced that night’s selection was dead. Walt’s brother Roy was running the business.

They had been partners ever since Walt’s first attempt at an animation studio ended in bankruptcy. I was also ignorant of Ub Iwerks’ contribution as co-creator of the iconic mouse. He remained when most of the other animators working for Disney signed a contract to work for another studio.

As an adult, I now understand the importance of cultivating loyalty if you are going to be an innovative leader because you will run into opposition.

Creative Ideas

A study from Wharton Business College and Cornell University found that people who were assessed as creative by their colleagues were also assumed to have less leadership potential than peers with unoriginal ideas. So the team conducted another study in an attempt to determine exactly why this occurred.

In the second study, business students watched other students present their solutions to a problem; some of the proposals were both original and useful, fitting the definition of innovation. For the second group, the same students pitched useful ideas, but ones that were fairly well known, obviously not creative. It really was the creativity of the ideas, not the amiability, warmth, or skill of the presenter, that predicted a perceived lower potential for leadership. Why is this?

People are not comfortable with creative ideas. The novelty of trying a new concept stretches thought processes. How exactly will this new innovation work? What will the outcome look like? Trying to solve problems with new ideas leaves us in a haze of unpredictability.

There is often pushback against continuous innovation because people desire stability and not continual change. They are comfortable with the “tried and true” ideas, even when these fail to work as well as they used to.


Adaptive style managers try to improve the current model of the existing organization. They are seen as dependable and efficient. Their changes are more acceptable because they are made. Their familiar ideas are more acceptable to employees. If they made a misjudgment, or perhaps one of their solutions turned out not to work, people tend to forgive them.


At the other end of the continuum are the Innovators. Managers within this group strive for breakthrough changes in the organization. They are viewed as unique, original, visionary, and ingenious because they don’t even try to conform to the status quo. However, they are also criticized and quickly fall out of favor if they are mistaken, and their innovative ideas do not function as proposed.

There is definitely a double standard when it comes to “mistake forgiveness” for leaders, with resistance both to the innovative idea and the individual proposing it. If the ideas fail, the innovative leader is expected to shoulder all the blame.

But if a traditional solution is proposed and tried without success, there seems to be little recrimination. After all, who would have guessed that the same old thing would not work anymore?

How Do You Work as an Innovator?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Kathleen Listman
Kathleen Listman
Kathleen Listman is an instructional designer and training consultant with a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction and over 15 years’ experience in researching, designing, developing and implementing instruction. She has created instructor-led courses, computer-based instruction and e-learning in multiple fields including aviation, manufacturing, medical devices, property accounting, telecommunications and retail sales.
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