“Fear is only as deep as the mind allows.” And “The greatest waste is failure to use the abilities of people, to learn about their frustrations and about the contributions that they are eager to make.” The former is a Japanese proverb. The latter is a quote from American composer and economist W. Edwards Deming.

Fear and pride are two powerful forces that often stand in the way of innovation. Fear of failure, fear of change, and fear of the unknown can paralyze individuals and organizations, preventing them from taking risks and exploring new ideas. On the other hand, pride can lead to complacency, arrogance, and resistance to feedback or alternative viewpoints. By acknowledging and addressing these biases head-on, individuals and organizations can foster a culture of innovation and embrace the opportunities that come with it.

Understanding the Blockers: Pride and Fear

Pride can manifest as a sense of superiority or entitlement, leading individuals to believe that they already have all the answers. These tendencies are in all of us and help define who we are. As leaders of Innovation teams, it is essential for you to recognize this excess pride in some members of your team and especially in yourself. You don’t need to have all the answers.

In one of the teams I was involved in, the lead engineer, Bob, was so outspoken and demanding that hardly anyone else would offer ideas. He was probably the smartest person in the room, but the team did not do well because most of its members checked out mentally and left it up to Bob. Bob also had the habit of correcting most anything others suggested. We helped the team leader to council with Bob in private and show him how others felt, and how, even though he may be right, it’s best not to verbalize every point. Soon the team was much more productive and created a prototype that worked using another teammate’s idea.

These conflicts of pride can be difficult to manage but they must be! This is very true if you are the one who must be in control at all times. Be reflective and allow others to lead sections of the project. Fight against excessive pride.

Fear can manifest in various forms, such as fear of failure, fear of criticism, or fear of stepping outside one’s comfort zone. These fears can prevent individuals from taking risks, experimenting with new approaches, or challenging the status quo.

Sometimes fear can be very deep seated, based on early trauma, and we may need to move more slowly with rooting out fear.

Most of us know who Elon Musk is and you know his name because he overcame his fear of failure. He poured his heart, soul, and fortune into SpaceX, risking everything to bring his vision to life. However, as the company encountered setbacks and failures, doubts began to creep in, and Musk found himself grappling with fear of failure. One of the most pivotal moments came in 2008, when SpaceX faced near bankruptcy after three consecutive failed rocket launches. The pressure was on, and Musk was faced with a make-or-break decision. Despite the immense risks, he made the bold choice to invest his last remaining funds into one final launch attempt.

In a dramatic turn of events, the fourth launch was a success, marking a turning point for SpaceX and solidifying Musk’s resolve to continue pushing forward.

Over the years, SpaceX has achieved numerous milestones, including becoming the first privately funded company to send a spacecraft to orbit and the first to dock with the International Space Station.

Fear and pride impact innovation in these ways:

Stifled Creativity: Pride can lead to a closed mindset, where individuals are unwilling to consider alternative viewpoints or explore unconventional ideas. This stifles creativity and limits the potential for breakthrough innovations.

Risk Aversion: Fear of failure often results in risk aversion, where individuals opt for the familiar and safe rather than venturing into uncharted territory. However, innovation inherently involves risk and avoiding it can stagnate progress.

Resistance to Change: Both pride and fear contribute to a resistance to change. Pride makes individuals resistant to admitting that current methods or strategies may be flawed, while fear makes them apprehensive about the uncertainties that come with change.

After we analyze and realize that both pride and fear are in our organization and innovation teams, we need a plan of action. Such as:

Cultivate a Growth Mindset: Encourage a culture where learning and growth are valued over being right. Emphasize the importance of embracing challenges, learning from failures, and continuously seeking improvement. Try reading “Growth Mindset: Skyrocket Your Confidence, Destroy Your Fear, Overcome Social Anxiety, And Be Happier.”

Promote a Fear-Free Culture: Create an environment in which individuals feel safe to express their ideas, voice their concerns, and take calculated risks without fear of judgment or reprisal.

Encourage Collaboration: Foster collaboration and interdisciplinary teamwork to break down silos and encourage diverse perspectives. Collaboration not only leads to richer insights but also fosters a sense of collective ownership and accountability.

Celebrate Failure: Shift the perspective on failure from something to be feared to an opportunity for learning and growth. Celebrate failures as valuable learning experiences and encourage individuals to share their failures openly. Hold a debriefing session with no criticism allowed.

Provide Support and Resources: Offer support, resources, and training to help individuals overcome their fears and develop the skills and confidence needed to innovate. This could include coaching, mentoring, or access to tools and technologies.

Lead by Example: Leaders play a crucial role in shaping organizational culture. Lead by example, by demonstrating humility, openness to feedback, and a willingness to take calculated risks. Encourage experimentation and reward innovative thinking.

Regularly Reassess and Adapt: Innovation is an ongoing process, and it’s essential to regularly reassess the organization’s approach and adapt as needed. Solicit feedback from employees, customers, and other stakeholders to identify areas for improvement and innovation.

Pride and fear can act as significant barriers to innovation, stifling creativity, and hindering progress. However, by recognizing and addressing these biases, individuals and organizations can create an environment that’s conducive to innovation. By cultivating a growth mindset, celebrating failure, leading by example, and regularly reassessing and adapting, organizations can overcome pride and fear and unleash their innovative potential.

Innovation is not just about new products or technologies; it’s about pushing boundaries, challenging conventions, and embracing change. By addressing the blockers of pride and fear, we can pave the way for a future filled with groundbreaking ideas and transformative solutions.

Keep innovating!

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