To Innovate, You Must Learn To Be Fearless
Did you know that the fear of public speaking is even worse than the fear of death for most people? Yes, some people prefer almost anything to standing in front of a crowd and talking. Innovation is almost as bad at some companies – I’ve heard it said a number of different ways, but it all boils down to one thing, a fear to innovate:
- “Let’s not go there”
- “We’ll never need to do that”
- “They can’t beat our X” – X being anything from “customer acquisition strategy” to “customer service” and everything in between
- “Don’t bother with the next five years, or even the next year. Let’s just make it through the quarter”
I especially like that last one when it comes from perfectly profitable and viable companies. Many firms feel that as long as they make sure that next quarter looks awesome, then they don’t really need to look any farther. Of course, if you don’t look up every now and then, you might miss that brick wall that you are about to run into.
But I digress: we are talking about getting over the fear to innovate. In many cases, innovating within these innovation adverse organizations requires a lot of the same skills that public speakers need – a confidence that their ideas are being heard by a receptive audience. The best public speakers can of course even turn unreceptive audiences in their direction. But what if you are afraid to bring up innovative new ideas for fear of them being shot down?
Here’s a trick I use which comes from the public speaker’s handbook which I call “reversing polarity”. If you are a sci-fi nut like me, you probably recognize the familiar trope – typically whenever something horrible happens and people are dead or dying, or people have been dropped through a wormhole on the other side of space, all you have to do is “reverse the polarity” and try the same thing you just did, only in reverse. You know, your hero simply switches the leads on the battery, and flips the switch again, or simply just goes back the way they came. Of course, this doesn’t actually work in real life with real things, (if would be great if it did, though) but it does work quite well when you are trying to make your brain do something it’s afraid of doing.
A good example of this is when you are weightlifting or running. You get to a point when you are in pain, you just can’t lift another rep or run anymore. All of your body is screaming stop. But there is a big difference between this pain and say, tripping and spraining your ankle. Realize that this is a good pain. It’s a healthy pain. Your brain is telling you to stop. But in order to reach that goal, in order to push your ideas forward, you know you must go on, no matter how uncomfortable or painful it gets.
So reverse the polarity. Instead of running away from the pain, run towards the pain. Like a prizefighter getting his second wind, say loudly in your mind: BRING IT ON. Mentally wave your fear over to you so you can give it a good beating. Actively defeat the fear in your brain. Make it say, UNCLE. The reality is that this fear is nothing against the power of your mind to defeat it – all you have to do is to relish it, instead of running away from it.
Once you have defeated the fear, you can be free to innovate. Tell anyone and everyone your ideas with reckless abandon. Enthusiastically look forward to meetings where you present your ideas. Have a bunch of them in tow (if you are reading this blog I’m guessing that you are a serial innovator, and are brimming with great ideas to present) Keep hammering away and one of two things will occur.
- You will be heard, and your innovations will flourish
- You won’t be heard, and you can feel free to go somewhere else where your ideas will flourish
Defeat the fear, and get your ideas out there. Then you will at least know where you should be standing.