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Ideas Can Be Scary Sometimes

Contribution by Kate Hammer, Chief Storyteller at KILNCO



“That’s crazy.” “I need some air.” “I need a stiff drink.” “NO! Just no!” Funny what can erupt from people when they’re caught off guard by a good idea. Novelty can be startling, alarming, even downright scary.


Some bright boffins at University of PA have actually found that the words people most closely associate with novel ideas are: “vomit”, “poison” and “agony”.*


Let’s imagine why this might be….



Back in the mists of time, when we humans were hunting and gathering, living simply and tied closely to the earth….the unfamiliar might well be deadly. A plant might be poisonous, an unknown animal a predator, an unforeseen event a trap. Some primordial bit of us is wired to see novelty and think: Danger!


But backs in the mists of time, we had a whole range of habits that underpinned a fraught and restricted way of life.


Fast-forward to the 21st century, and it’s clear we’re no longer held hostage to natural forces to anything like the same degree. But while (at the best of times) natural forces are less forceful, our responses are slower to evolve. We need to coax them into the present.


Here and now, today, we can give ourselves permission: to feel the fear novelty triggers, but refuse to let the real fear we feel to freeze us.




Our “UGH” to new thinking is like a gag reflex. The reflex prevents us from swallowing something that might harm us. We choke out the new idea instead of taking it in.


Now what if it’s our primordial gag reflex that’s actually scaring us, not the idea?


It would follow: when we conquer the impulse to gag, we open ourselves to radical novelty. We become free to eat the fruits of breakthrough thinking.


So, how about the next time a radical, great idea taps you on the shoulder and says, “Boo!” by all means: jump – just don’t run for cover.


There’s no need to flee. You’ve got a modern mind you can bring to stand alongside your inner Neanderthal. Grin and greet the hairy ape that’s your ancestor-living-inside-you. And ask the ape to be quiet, assured that you’re hear and you’ll keep everyone safe.


Your modern mind is brave, your modern mind is free. “Hello, Idea,” says that modern mind.  “I’m surprised to see you. You’re very welcome here. What possibilities have you brought with you today?”


And lo, an unforeseen future begins.



- Kate Hammer, co-inventor of IdeaKeg (, creator of StoryFORMs ( More on Kate at



* Mueller, Jennifer, Shimul Melwani, Jack Goncalo (2010) “The Bias Against Creativity: Why People Desire But Reject Creative Ideas” Cornell University ILR Collection, Accessed 14 November 2014