Have We Taken Psychological Safety Too Far?

Jake Wilder
6 min readApr 15, 2022

Innovation Requires More Than Brainstorming Sessions and Creative Workshops

Photo: iStock/grinvalds

Psychological safety is important. We can all agree that people need to feel safe taking risks, challenging paradigms, and testing new ideas for innovation to succeed. If a failed experiment is likely to cost you your job, you’re much more likely to stick to what’s safe and predictable.

It also makes work much more enjoyable. People want to work in collaborative, open-minded cultures. If you can’t be open about your ideas or bring your whole self to work, it’s stifling. It’s not surprising that people are leaving these jobs for better opportunities.

So yes, psychological safety is necessary for innovation. But it’s only part of the equation.

Psychological safety is great at developing ideas and spurring creativity. The problem is that ideas and creativity don’t necessarily lead to innovation.

One of my coworkers is great at coming up with ideas. He’ll happily tell you about his ideas for new products and where the company needs to adapt. Except he never does anything about them. He’s a talker, not a doer. He may be creative, but he’s not innovative.

Ideation is not innovation. Having ideas and not acting on them is no different than not having any ideas. Either way, nothing actually gets done.

If you spend any time working around people, you quickly learn that there’s never a lack of ideas. Everyone has thoughts on how we can improve things. I can put five people in a room for an hour and without fail, I’ll have twenty new ideas to improve our company’s products and operations. There’s no shortage of ideas. There’s a shortage of people willing to execute those ideas.

This is the problem with only focusing on psychological safety. It drives a culture that celebrates generating ideas while ignoring the disciplined execution that’s necessary to turn those ideas into reality. It mistakes ideation for innovation.

Psychological safety’s important, but it only leads to results when we pair it with high technical standards, candid feedback, and individual accountability.

Psychological Safety, but with High Technical Standards

Jake Wilder

I don’t know where I’m going. But at least I know how to get there.