by Janet Sernack, Innovation Excellence: http://www.innovationexcellence.com/blog/2013/09/07/fear-to-innovate/
Janet Sernack is the Founder & CEO ImagineNation.
She is an ICf certified executive coach and experiential learning
specialist with expertise in adaptive leadership and team effectiveness.
Janet facilitates a weekly business network in Zichron Yaakov, Israel,
for English speaking business owners and entrepreneurs.
I can’t remember how many times, in the last 25 years, I stood in front
of a group of powerful senior executives, in a change management or
transformational leadership training program, wisely sprouting these
words: “feel the fear and do it anyway” or even more contritely: “the
learning zone is outside the comfort zone” and what about “there is no
failure, only feedback!”
What was I doing! How could I have been so cruel and naive to
not understand the differences between people’s cognitive understanding
of fear and their natural resistance to having a visceral experience of
It was only when I relocated to the Middle East almost four years
ago, that I actually started to really understand what feeling fearful
means, and how my fear of failure, up until now, pervaded every aspect
of my life.
If fear of failure is my greatest nemesis, how does it
manifest, in its infinite variations and consequences, in other people’s
lives, especially when they are expected to change innovate?
Whether it is procrastination, perfectionism or
competitiveness, a real deep and unconscious fear is at the core. How we
accept, embrace and flow with it, determines the ultimate role it plays
in dealing with our failures as well our ability to change, innovate
It wasn’t until I evolved and matured that I was able to develop a
deep conscious awareness and understanding of this sometimes paralyzing
and overwhelming fear.
I learnt how to self regulate it by embracing it
and making it “my friend”, acknowledging that, without it, I would not
have cultivated the energy and drive to succeed in life the way that I
I decided that it was time to take responsibility for it, to
create a different and a set of results as well as affect a range of
more useful and positive consequences.
Living in the constant state of uncertainty and instability here in
the unpredictable Middle East, I finally realized much to my horror,
that the world is essentially an “unsafe place”!
That some people
actually work really hard to make others feel totally flooded and
paralyzed by fear, because, sadly it gives them a sense of power and
control. This is the harsh reality the secret pacifist in me has to live
with, and it really, really, deeply hurts.
When I started researching and developing my start-up, www.imaginenation.co.il,
I was asked a range of successful and innovative entrepreneurs, “how
did it feel when you failed, and what did you do to manage it?”
Unsurprisingly, the responses often came across as “you can’t imagine
how horrible it was!” Somehow, the more resilient and resourceful
managed to create some useful unique recovery strategies and picked
themselves up, and got back to work.
I realized that no-one wants to either “feel the fear” that
exists outside of their “comfort zones”, or create intentional
opportunities for “feedback” because, to go there, feels really, really
horrible and why go there if you don’t really really have to?
The biggest barrier to innovation is people’s reluctance to feel the
fear, and because you cannot innovate without failing, at least once,
people will naturally resist and move away from anything that can
potentially result in a range of horrible feelings!
One of my most challenging dilemmas in developing my three corporate
learning streams to teach innovative leadership skills has been to seek
out and clarify how to “work with” and resource people in organizations
to deal with this fear barrier in radically different, positive and
The solution I am proposing is an intentional and eclectic
cocktail of the 5C’s of Consciousness, Creativity, Courage, Compassion
Qualities that are seldom mentioned as leadership competences or cultural values!
Being conscious means developing the presence to deeply
observe what works and what doesn’t work, and be present to ourselves,
to others, and to retreat and reflect, to see and work with, what is
really going on, for the good of the whole.
Being creative means knowing how to deeply listen and
disruptively inquire, to maximize diversity and stimulate out of the box
thinking that creates deep generative debates that erupt in creative
Being courageous means knowing how to be present to, and
confront your own and others un-resourceful emotional states, accepting
pain, being brave and candid in the face of risk, adversity and danger,
uncertainty, or intimidation.
Being compassionate means knowing how to be caring and
sensitive to the needs and vulnerabilities of self and others, being
generous and accepting what is, and not making it “bad” or “wrong”.
Being collaborative means knowing how to activate people’s
followership of a shared cause or agenda, to be put the needs of others
and the whole first, whilst still respecting one’s own.
Organizations have the opportunity to be courageous and let go of
their short term scarcity mindset and risk adversity, by proactively
enabling people to accept and deal with their fears around failure, or
of making mistakes and being exposed as “flawed” in some way, (and
punished for it).
When they choose to consciously contribute toward the common good, have the
courage to build creative, collaborative and compassionate
organizational cultures and business eco-systems, then perhaps, people
will flow and flourish in our unpredictable, chaotic and complex fast
paced globalized world by being fearlessly and confide.