Fear to Innovate

Fear to InnovateI can’t remember how many times, in the last 25 years, I stood in front of a group of powerful senior executives, in a change management or transformational leadership training program, wisely sprouting these words: “feel the fear and do it anyway” or even more contritely: “the learning zone is outside the comfort zone” and what about “there is no failure, only feedback”!

What was I doing! How could I have been so cruel and naive to not understand the differences between people’s cognitive understanding of fear and their natural resistance to having a visceral experience of it!

It was only when I relocated to the Middle East almost four years ago, that I actually started to really understand what feeling fearful means, and how my fear of failure, up until now, pervaded every aspect of my life. If fear of failure is my greatest nemesis, how does it manifest, in its infinite variations and consequences, in other people’s lives, especially when they are expected to change innovate?

Whether it is procrastination, perfectionism or competitiveness, a real deep and unconscious fear is at the core. How we accept, embrace and flow with it, determines the ultimate role it plays in dealing with our failures as well our ability to change, innovate and succeed.

It wasn’t until I evolved and matured that I was able to develop a deep conscious awareness and understanding of this sometimes paralyzing and overwhelming fear. I learnt how to self regulate it by embracing it and making it “my friend”, acknowledging that, without it, I would not have cultivated the energy and drive to succeed in life the way that I have. I decided that it was time to take responsibility for it, to create a different and a set of results as well as affect a range of more useful and positive consequences.

Living in the constant state of uncertainty and instability here in the unpredictable Middle East, I finally realized much to my horror, that the world is essentially an “unsafe place”! That some people actually work really hard to make others feel totally flooded and paralyzed by fear, because, sadly it gives them a sense of power and control. This is the harsh reality the secret pacifist in me has to live with, and it really, really, deeply hurts.

When I started researching and developing my start-up, www.imaginenation.co.il, I was asked a range of successful and innovative entrepreneurs, “how did it feel when you failed, and what did you do to manage it?” Unsurprisingly, the responses often came across as “you can’t imagine how horrible it was!” Somehow, the more resilient and resourceful managed to create some useful unique recovery strategies and picked themselves up, and got back to work.

I realized that no-one wants to either “feel the fear” that exists outside of their “comfort zones”, or create intentional opportunities for “feedback” because, to go there, feels really, really horrible and why go there if you don’t really really have to?

The biggest barrier to innovation is people’s reluctance to feel the fear, and because you cannot innovate without failing, at least once, people will naturally resist and move away from anything that can potentially result in a range of horrible feelings!

One of my most challenging dilemmas in developing my three corporate learning streams to teach innovative leadership skills has been to seek out and clarify how to “work with” and resource people in organizations to deal with this fear barrier in radically different, positive and useful ways.

The solution I am proposing is an intentional and eclectic cocktail of the 5C’s of Consciousness, Creativity, Courage, Compassion and Collaboration.

Qualities that are seldom mentioned as leadership competences or cultural values!

Being a conscious means; developing the presence to deeply observe what works and what doesn’t work, and be present to ourselves, to others, and to retreat and reflect, to see and work with, what is really going on, for the good of the whole.
Being creative means; knowing how to deeply listen and disruptively inquire, to maximize diversity and stimulate out of the box thinking that creates deep generative debates that erupt in creative ideas.
Being courageous means; knowing how to be present to, and confront your own and others un-resourceful emotional states, accepting pain, being brave and candid in the face of risk, adversity and danger, uncertainty, or intimidation.
Being compassionate means; knowing how to be caring and sensitive to the needs and vulnerabilities of self and others, being generous and accepting what is, and not making it “bad” or “wrong”.
Being collaborative means; knowing how to activate people’s followership of a shared cause or agenda, to be put the needs of others and the whole first, whilst still respecting one’s own.

Organizations have the opportunity to be courageous and let go of their short term scarcity mindset and risk adversity, by proactively enabling people to accept and deal with their fears around failure, or of making mistakes and being exposed as “flawed” in some way, (and punished for it).

When they choose to consciously contribute toward the common good, have the courage to build creative, collaborative and compassionate organizational cultures and business eco-systems, then perhaps, people will flow and flourish in our unpredictable, chaotic and complex fast paced globalized world by being fearlessly and confide


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