Burst of Innovation - Fear, Comfort, Constraints


Innovation efforts kick off around the world on a daily basis. Unfortunately many of those innovation efforts fail. Let's take a look at three key reasons why innovation fails. 


Fear hits you in the gut. Fear of failure, fear of consequences, fear of looking stupid, fear of looking worthy…the list goes on. Fear shows up as anxiety or stress. Often times, it shows up as us talking ourselves out of speaking up or out of doing something we want to do. 

So let's take a step back. Let's look at fear a little more closely. Once we understand it better, we can see how it helps innovation fail. 

You and I are hardwired for fear. It's primal. As humans we fear. If we hadn't feared, our species wouldn't have survived. It's a great platitude to say "dare to be fearless" but we can't get rid of fear. What we can do, however, is we recognize how it shows up in each one of us. When we recognize our own fear and work to move past it, or at least not let it control us,  we can embrace innovation. In the old days, fear kept us from being eaten by saber tooth tigers. We don't have those survival needs in our modern world, yet fear still plays tricks on us. 

A recent study shows that 85% of what we fear or worry about doesn't even come true. We worry that our boss will think our idea is stupid. We worry that an initiative will fail. We worry that we're not worthy of an idea and that other people will shut us down. And yet, 85% of that doesn't come true. Most of our fear is highly self-imposed. We use that fear to shut ourselves down before we get those innovative ideas out there. This is particularly true with innovation. Innovation feels risky. It feels like being on the edge, like we're pushing our limits. But it's understanding this fear that helps us understand better why innovation fails. 

Fear often holds us back from innovating, and yet, we can't have innovation without fear. It's not about being fearless, it's about embracing that fear and figuring out how to push through it. So, the next time you feel some fear coming on around an idea you think might work, write down the benefits and write down your fears around it. Then ask yourself, "What's the worst that can happen here?" You'll likely find that your idea and its benefits outweigh your fears.


Let's face it, it's easier to stay where we are than it is to shift. Even if we don't like the current state, at least it's familiar. After all, why rock the boat? Comfort comes from us trying to stay safe and is also a main reason why innovation fails. Comfort has us keep doing what we've always done. That way, we avoid the unknown. In our minds, and recalling what we just talked about in regards to fear, it's us working to avoid being unsafe. Again, our brain is hardwired to be safe, right? In today's world that comfort and wanting to feel comfortable actually holds us back. So, when someone suggests change, and you naturally step back from it, stop and ask yourself, "Why do I feel so uncomfortable right now?" Really examine the entire situation and your response. 


The third one that really, sabotages us is constraints. Talk about a reason why innovation fails. Constraints of the system, constraints of the environment or constraints of the resources stonewall us. Sometimes we create these constraints ourselves. Other times, they are the systems that we work in within our companies and our teams. Over the years, I've repeatedly had people come up to me and say, "Hey, I've tried and tried, but I'm just getting beat down, and beat down, and beat down. I'm done. I'm kind of over trying to launch new ideas because I just can't get any traction. I'm exhausted."

Often times, constraints are more insidious than we realize. When someone sees the constraints, but doesn't necessarily realize it's happening soon enough, they get weighed down. They tire of dragging the ball and chain around. They hit that point, like the people I mentioned above, that they're so exhausted they don't want to do anymore. It's “death by a thousand cuts”. They're constantly shut down and shut down and shut down. Usually, it's the culture or the system or the routines that have been created and but didn't realize were created until it's too late.

It's hard to get around that brick wall if you don't even recognize that the brick wall is there. The next time you're up against a wall, or stuck, I want you to think about your environment. Ask yourself,  "Where in my environment am I constantly getting shut down?" It is possible, too, that you might be shutting other people down and don't even realize it. So take a step back and look at your impact on the team. 


Let me share a quick example with you. I have this Greek diner that I go to all the time. My kids and I go almost every Saturday after hiking or whatever kid thing we have that day.

One day my son turns to me and says, "Hey, what if we go and try that new restaurant down the street? I want to know if their food is any good."

I respond with a hard "No." and instantly go into fight or flight mode. I turn to him and I say, "Liam, what if their food is bad? I don't want to risk having a bad meal today."

He looks at me and says, "Mom, is having a bad meal really something that is that risky? Do you really care that much about it?"

With that, I realized what happened in that moment. I conjured up all this fear of change. I wanted to be comfortable. I wanted to go to the place where I could recite the menu. I wanted to have the meal that I knew would be decent enough, and not risk something that isn't even that big of a risk. That's the irony of it.

We did go to the new restaurant. It turned out to be fine. It wasn't that great, but it really didn't matter. I, however, had conjured up all this fight or flight in my head, all this fear of trying something new, all this desire to be comfortable and for what? One meal. To top it off, when I took a step back and looked at the routine that I created, the one of every Saturday going to the same Greek restaurant, had become my constraint. I didn't even realize it. I was so in the habit of just going to this one place because I knew it and it was comfortable. This whole event made me really think about the rest of my work and life am I letting fear guide my decisions? Am I letting constraints hold me back? Am I letting comfort guide the way that I am trying new things? Am I avoiding risks that keep me from being innovative? So go ahead. Take inventory of your life. Where are fear, comfort and constraints slowing you down? You just might be surprised what you find. 

Watch the video to learn about the killer exercise that will help you recognize and push through your FEAR, FAILURE, AND CONSTRAINTS.

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