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What You Don’t Know Will Probably Hurt You

Don’t Let The Fear of The Unknown Stop You From Innovating

I’m not sure where the phrase “what you don’t know can’t hurt you,” came from, but it’s the opposite of how humans react to the unknown.

It’s not our fault; we have not evolved that far mentally from cavepeople of old – whenever we encountered someone or something new and unfamiliar, our instinct was to fear it. We responded with a fight or flight response, instinctively looking to attack whatever the unknown person or thing was, or run as far and as fast as we could.

We were not taught to embrace the unknown but to fear it.

Back in those days, it was worth fearing – an unknown person, animal or thing could literally kill us, or at least hurt us very badly. It was a survival response – if we didn’t attack or run, it was life or death.

While we rarely have that level of an existential threat in our modern cities and times anymore, we as humans have yet to evolve from that place truly. The unknown is still considered a threat. Additionally, when we were children, we were open to everything and every experience, as we grew older and our parents and society conditioned us to worry about the unknown, we started to become fearful, tapping into our ancient dinosaur brain. Its easy and straightforward for us to fear the unknown, to fear change, to fear the different.

It’s much harder for us to buck that feeling and be completely open to the unknown. So its no surprise when you, as an innovator, are having trouble moving new ideas through the pipeline – most people are still conditioned to play it safe. Even though we aren’t roaming the savannah, new things, unknown to us, are always a threat. This is why in many organizations, one needs to “socialize” an idea, to “align” people in the same direction, find people to “champion” it through the process.

This is much harder is larger, older organizations, but can also happen in much younger organizations where the founders refuse to pivot. We are so afraid of the unknown; we’d prefer to keep the pain we have, instead of possibly eliminating that pain by doing something new. We think that the known is always better than the unknown, and this is a deep-seated human attribute that we must work on to truly innovate.

Learn to embrace the unknown, or at least consider the unknown, test the unknown, before you decide that the unknown is not for you. Be open to the unknown, and it may be much better than what you have today. You won’t know the unknown until you know it, then its no longer hidden.

How do you know the unknown – how do you dip your toe in the unknown? Test it, try it, experiment. You won’t know if this new, unknown idea will be better than what you have today unless you try it out. Especially today, there is no reason you can’t test things with minimal resources in both time and money, at the very least, build a simple non-working prototype and run it past potential customers. You have little to lose and much to gain if the idea has traction.

Try to experiment in small ways, learn to embrace the unknown in little incremental steps, and you will be able to slowly increase your capacity for risk, to keep the threat instinct at bay, and become truly open to the unknown.

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