by Holly Green
It’s scary to think about giving up what made you or your organization successful for something that may or may not work. That’s the dilemma at the heart of change and innovation. It’s kind of like being on a trapeze and not wanting to let go until you know the second trapeze will arrive just in time.
One of the real shortcomings of the human brain, at least in the business world, is this tendency to hold on to the past. We believe that what made us successful up to this point will continue to make us successful in the future.
At the same time, humans are more driven to avoid pain than to seek reward. This is probably a holdover from our caveman days, when the avoidance of predators was essential for survival.
If fear of letting go seems to be holding back your company’s attempts to innovate, try the following:
- Identify your fears In business, as in real life, most of our fears are unfounded. Start by asking, “What am I most afraid of?” Follow that up with questions like: “Are my fears real or imagined? Do I have hard data to support them, or are they based on beliefs and assumptions that may no longer be true?”
- Ask “what if….?”To help neutralize your fears, or at least make them more manageable, ask a series of “what if…?” questions. For example: “What if those things I’m afraid of don’t happen? What if I’m willing to build in some safety nets to minimize the risks? What if I can move forward without risking everything?”
- Expose your thinking Often people fear new ideas because they don’t see the world the same way you do. Exposing your thinking can help. When presenting a new idea or proposal, lay out all the data behind it and show how it supports your proposed solution. The idea isn’t to force people to see the world the same way you do, but to get them to understand why you see it that way. Once people understand your perspective, they become more open to expanding their own point of view and considering new ideas.
- Address the threat rather than the opportunity To overcome people’s ingrained fears, it may help to frame your idea or proposal as a solution to an existing threat rather than a new business opportunity. Focus on what is known about your idea rather than what is new and unproven. In many cases, innovation comes from putting together different pieces of what already exists in new and different ways (the iPod). Explaining how some of the components of your idea have already been tested and proven in the marketplace can help to overcome resistance born of fear.
We all have fears, many of them valid. By becoming aware of them and working through them, we can open the door to meaningful innovation and the rewards that come with it.
Holly is CEO of The Human Factor, Inc., and helps business leaders and their companies achieve higher levels of performance and profitability.
Holly’s top selling book, More Than a Minute: How to Be an Effective Leader and Manager in Today’s Changing World (available in 9 languages globally) goes beyond the theory of leading and managing by providing practical, action-oriented information.