To Innovate, You Must Be Fearless

If you want to be innovative, you have to learn to overcome your fears.

Did you know that most people consider the fear of public speaking even more severe than the fear of death? Indeed, some people would instead do almost anything else than stand in front of a group and talk. Some businesses are almost as bad when it comes to innovation; I’ve heard this said in several different ways, but it all comes down to one thing, a fear of innovation:

  • “Let’s not even go there.”
  • “We won’t ever have to worry about that again.”
  • They cannot compete with our X, where X can be anything from “customer acquisition strategy” to “customer service” and anything in between. “They can’t beat our X.”
  • “Don’t even bother worrying about the next year, let alone the next five years. Let’s just get through this quarter and call it good.

Especially when it comes from companies that are perfectly profitable and still in business, the last one is one of my favorites. Many businesses believe that as long as they can guarantee that the upcoming quarter will be successful, they don’t need to look any further ahead. Of course, if you don’t look up every once in a while, there’s a chance that you’ll fail to notice the brick wall that’s right in front of you.

But allow me to digress: the topic at hand is conquering one’s resistance to being innovative. In many instances, innovating inside of these innovation-averse organizations requires a lot of the same skills that are necessary for public speaking, specifically the self-assurance that one’s ideas are being heard by an audience that is receptive to them. The most effective public speakers can naturally win over audiences that are not receptive to their message. But what if you are afraid to bring up new innovative ideas because you are worried they will be rejected?

I call this technique “reversing the polarity,” and it’s something I picked up from a handbook written for public speakers. Here’s how it works: If you are a fan of science fiction as much as I am, you have probably come across a familiar trope. This trope states that whenever something terrible occurs, and people are killed or dying, or people have been dropped through a wormhole on the other side of space, all you need to do is “reverse the polarity” and try the same thing you just did, only in reverse. For example, if people were killed when they were dropped through a wormhole on the other side of space, you should know that your protagonist just swaps the leads on the battery and then turns the switch back on; alternatively, they could just go back the way they came. This, of course, does not actually work in real life with real things (although it would be awesome if it did), but it works pretty well when trying to make your brain do something it is afraid to do.

A good illustration of this would be when you are doing something like lifting weights or running. When you reach this point, you are in so much pain that you simply cannot perform another repetition of the exercise or continue to run. Your entire being is pleading with you to stop. There is, however, a significant distinction to be made between this pain and, for example, tripping and spraining your ankle. Understand that this is a healthy kind of suffering. This is a good kind of hurt. Your brain is trying to tell you to put an end to this. But you know that you have to keep going to achieve that objective, to move your ideas forward, even if what you are doing is becoming increasingly unpleasant or painful.

Therefore, switch the polarity. Instead of trying to get away from the discomfort, you should try to get closer to it. Say the phrase “BRING IT ON” out loud in your head as if you were a prizefighter getting his second wind. Imagine that you mentally bring your fear to yourself to give it a good beating. Conquer the fear that you feel inside of your head. Make it say UNCLE. The truth is that the power of your mind is more than enough to overcome this fear; all that is required of you is to take pleasure in the experience of being afraid rather than trying to avoid it.

Once you have overcome the fear, you will be free to experiment and develop new ideas. Share your thoughts and opinions with whoever will listen, without restriction. Anticipation and excitement in anticipation of meetings at which you will present your ideas. Have a number of them in tow (if you are reading this blog, I’m guessing that you are a serial innovator and are brimming with great ideas to present). Keep hammering away at it, and one of two things will happen.

  1. You will be acknowledged, and the success of your innovations will increase.
  2. You will not be heard and are free to go elsewhere where your ideas will have a better chance of being implemented.

Conquer your anxiety and make your ideas known to the world. Then, at the very least, you will know where you should be standing.