Fear is Detrimental to Innovation

Many of the most successful companies strive for constant change and new innovations in the workplace. For them, new ideas are the lifeblood that keep things rolling towards a more productive, collaborative, and happy workplace environment. Furthermore, they see innovation as the key to remaining at the top of their respective industry and push the boundaries of what is possible.

The only problem is that many businesses have erected unintentional barriers that limit the abilities of employees to innovate regularly. Perhaps certain aspects of company culture or policy create a blockade. But most likely, company innovation is limited by employee fear.

If there is one thing that the most innovative companies offer as advice to managers, it is to reduce fear in the workplace. Fear is detrimental to innovation.

What’s there to be Afraid Of?

According to business professors Frederick Crane and Marc Meyer of Northeastern University, the majority of large companies have employees suspended in a state of fear. This fear can arise in many ways: fear of losing their job, fear of damaging their reputation with a client, fear of punishment, or fear of never rising past their current position. Often times these fears are perpetuated by tough deadlines, intimidating managers, or even a high stress working environment.

Risk-aversion and other similar behaviors in employees is a sure sign that it is time to change management and company culture to one that is more supportive of new ideas. But figuring out how to best accomplish this change can be challenging within itself.

Failure is the Only Option

The most important thing that must be accepted in designing a company culture that supports innovation is that failure happens. Not every new and innovative idea is going to work out the first time. Some ideas may never work out no matter how many different ways in which they are tried. Failure is a normal part of innovation and must be accepted as such.

Some research has shown that most companies are actually on a crusade to eliminate mistakes within their workflow. Results tend to be the goal, not new ideas. These companies neglect to see the connection between new ideas and better results. When the failure of a new idea is the perfect fodder for the release of an employee or is associated with a lack of productivity, the company itself is failing at creating a culture that supports innovation.

Manage for Innovation

Removing fear from the workplace is a slow process that begins by making it clear that failure is okay as long as the process was well thought out and employees are learning from their mistakes. When hiring new employees or promoting established ones, look for both productivity and contributions to new strategies, this will communicate that innovation is a valued quality. Furthermore, it creates a culture in which the most successful are those that are able to combine creativity with productivity.

Incorporating some level of mindfulness, or a curiosity an openness to new ideas, into workflow is important. Much like educators in classroom, managers that are open and willing to accept new ideas with excitement are likely to see new ideas flow forth rapidly and major growth in employees. Additionally, employees will feel the effects for a more laid back and creative environment, which has been shown to increase productivity in and of itself.


Although workplace fear can be a difficult feeling to conquer, dedicated managers can develop a culture in which employees don’t feel a need to avoid taking risks. Promoting failure as a means to learn and searching for productive processes in employees rather than solely results, is a great way to start. Soon innovative ideas will become mainstream, the company culture will improve, and the business will be well on the road to success.

Guest Author: Brittni Brown is a current graduate student at the University of Idaho. In her free time she enjoys a variety of outdoor activities including hiking, biking, and camping.

Next Article

When Smart Drugs Do The Work