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The Four Fears that Stifle Innovation

The Four Fears that Stifle Innovation

We may disagree as to the extent, but fear plays a big part in shaping how we act. We've seen the powerful effects on creativity when the pressures on. Fear is something we all deal with. We all have different triggers but our responses are relatively hard-wired. The bump in the night and the bosses footsteps down the hall can both trigger strong reactions.


Innovation, particularly the type of innovation that emerges from a team working closely together, suffers from four fears that we see recurring in our partner organizations. Dealing with the fears is an aspect of our work and good leadership reduces the impact of these fears on their teams.


Fear 1: The fear of producing something you're afraid to change.


Many teams are afraid of going back. There is an attraction in checking things off a list and never returning to it. Cognitive short-hand makes the immense complexity of modern life a little more manageable. There is a reason that, "going back to the drawing board" is said with a certain resignation. But of course innovation thrives when we question our assumptions and address first principles. As individuals we are willing to retrace our steps to try a different route but teams seem to struggle with making the hard call to throw weeks of work away to get to a better place.


Fear 2: The fear of empowerment.


Empowerment and accountability are all things we say we want. Actually having it is a different matter. Work makes it easy to blame others when things go poorly. True empowerment places the burden on the team to succeed and there are no fingers to be pointed. Innovation comes from empowered teams but being accountable can be terrifying, particularly when you are not assuming the accountability alone.


Fear 3: The fear of making decisions.


Collaboration requires different team members to make decisions at different moments. The hat of leadership will pop up elsewhere in time, but for critical periods individuals are accountable for the direction and integrity of the team. Resorting to consensus may assuage the fear of accountability but innovation sometimes requires hard decisions about priorities and then an ability to step away from the decision and participate as a team member once more. Both putting on the hat and taking it off are causes for anxiety that stifle innovation.


Fear 4: The fear of being wrong.


This is the most obvious fear that stifles innovation. It's far easier to copy someone else's good idea than it is to try something new and fail. Hedging and analyzing endlessly produces very little. There is a Chinese adage that, "talking doesn't cook rice". At some point you have to boil the water and that's when it gets messy. Good leaders make it OK for teams to be wrong. Great leaders celebrate it.

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