From Fear of Failure To Freedom

Innovation has many enemies, chief among them is fear of failure. Many organizations fail because they miss the future, unable to adapt to changing conditions. They didn’t try. And when they did it was too late. All because of fear of failure, fear of being first, fear of taking risks, fear of taking a chance.

How can organizations develop the courage to take risks and avoid missing the future?

I was recently asked to help a company develop their culture and other strategic areas. Last week I had them identify rules and / or practices that if changed or eliminated could result in immediate impact in how they operate and deliver value to clients. It took some time for people to let loose, specifically because some people were skeptical that this exercise would be followed through after ideas were submitted.

Other people were scared to speak up. It was obvious they they’ve never done something like this before. Eventually things started rolling and they started exchanging ideas, placing them in groups and prioritized them. The whole exercise helped them create dialogue between leaders and their teams, something that will need to become normal going forward.

And this is the point: Innovation dies when fear rules.

For any organization to go from fear of failure to freedom, people need to feel free to speak up. Innovation dies inside large, established organizations when leaders don’t take other people’s ideas into account. And fail when they do and kill those ideas early.

So, how do you get people to speak up?

As a leader, you should lead by example and ask for suggestions. But don’t just tell people to suggest ideas, bring them into the conversation. Make it explicit that “ideas come from anywhere”. And, this is the big one, follow through.