The Roadblockers. (Episode 126)

The Roadblockers. (Episode 126)

Interview with Lise Karstensen, Head of Nordics, Nokia Enterprise and Country Director.



You have heard about Gatekeepers – as in “someone who has the power to decide who gets particular resources and opportunities, and who does not”, and Gatekeepers can be frustrating, annoying and irritating to run into.

But there is another frustrating, annoying and irritating person we should really look out for: The Roadblocker.

A Roadblocker is “someone who kills ideas because they do not have enough understanding of the solution.”

I learned about Roadblockers from Lise Karstensen, Head of Nordics, Nokia Enterprise and Country Director.

Lise has been at Nokia for 25 years, and she has spent a lot of time reflecting on how she, as a leader, can help inspire creativity in her team. One of the most important insights she has received is the importance of NOT becoming a Roadblocker.

Lise: “(As a leader) the easiest thing is just to say “no” to something where you do not see the potential. But as a leader I do not want to be the one stopping good ideas because I do not see its potential. Everybody’s brains are limited, but we are limited in different areas, so as a leader it’s important that I am aware of my own “innovation blind spots”. If I am only relying on my own ability to judge if an idea is great, I am limiting innovation. It’s never a good idea to think you always know what constitutes a good idea.”

Lise means that some leaders say no to ideas – not because the ideas are bad – but because the leaders do not understand the idea. These are the Roadblockers. People who are blocking the innovation process due to lack of understanding of the ideas’ potential.

Lise is encouraging leaders to take risks by investing in ideas and proposed innovation projects even if they do not fully see their potential. That, obviously, does not mean you should approve ideas you think are bad. It means you should put your trust in other people’s ability to see that something is a good idea.

When I asked Lise to share the strategy needed to not become a Roadblocker, she gave this advice:

1) You really need to listen to the ideas people are coming up with without a filter.

Be aware that your own “filters” might stop you from seeing what they are seeing.

2) Have self-awareness about your own innovation blind-spots and limitations

Know what you do not know.

3) Be open even if you cannot see the whole idea

Being open-minded is about being able to be open to other minds.

Leaders should of course say no to a lot of ideas. Perhaps even to most ideas. Being a leader includes making decisions, and decision making is often about choosing what not to do (The Etymology of the word “decision”, after all, is “to cut off” as in “to decide is to cut off all the things not to do.”

Lise acknowledges that: “As leaders we block ideas every day, and we should. But avoiding becoming a Roadblocker is about having the guts to trust that other people know what they are talking about, even when you do not see what they see. You can challenge their ideas based on your knowledge and expertise, but you should judge the idea on the other person’s knowledge and expertise.”

When I asked for an example of when Lise had avoided becoming a Roadblocker she told me of a time when one of the people on her team had suggested bringing in a distributor to expand the business in the region. Lise: “I could not see the real value add, but I could see that the person presenting the idea could see the value.” Lise decided to trust the creativity of her colleague. And it was the right move, the project was a success.

When reflecting on this instance Lise said: “Some (leaders) think they know everything, and that if they do not understand an idea then it’s a bad idea. But no-one knows everything, and good leaders know that.”

My final question to Lise was: “What do you suggest someone do if they feel their idea is being killed by a Roadblocker?”

She said: “Try another path. Give the pitch another angle. It’s usually very difficult to get a Roadblocker to change their mind. Better then, to change the pitch and approach the selling of the idea from a different perspective. Since you now know why the Roadblocker decided to block the idea the first time, you should now be able to find a different way past the Roadblocker’s hesitation about the idea.

Be mindful about Roadblockers – they kill loads of ideas.

But more importantly, be mindful of not BEING a Roadblocker.

Fredrik Haren, The Creativity Explorer

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