Overcome Fear of Failure and Spark Innovation

Does your organization reward risks that end up failures? Does it promote creativity with no fear? Most organizations don’t, but more are beginning to because companies need to innovate and research shows a direct positive correlation between failures and innovations. More companies are rewarding innovative efforts — even when they fail — to promote a culture where people take risks and innovate without fear of failure.

Companies including WPP’s Grey Group (the creators of ETrade’s talking baby ads) SurePayroll (which gives an award for “Best new mistake”) and Procter & Gamble Co. (which has a division just for innovation), are focusing on the importance of innovation through risk taking, according to the Wall Street Journal in an article Sept. 27 titled “Better ideas through failure.”

I’ve coached high-performers for 25 years in business and sports and one of the distinguishing characteristics of these individuals is that they have the courage to fail -¦ in order to succeed. To be innovative, as an individual and as an organization, you must be free or nearly free of fear of failure. Fear of failure kills both innovation and success.

Jeremy Bloom, a three-time world champion freestyle skier, who also played three years of professional football in the NFL and has recently built two successful companies (during the Great Recession), understands the importance of failure in becoming successful. When I asked him, “Are you afraid to fail?” He said, “I’ve failed much more in my life than I’ve succeeded. Much more. I look at [failures] as setbacks — and I love setbacks because I think every setback gives you an opportunity to separate from everyone else. -¦ I love the challenges of those setbacks, and the opportunities that they present.” Jeremy is only 29 and has mastered fear. (This link goes to a four-minute video of him sharing his mastery of fear of failure: http://drtcnorth.com/590/overcome-fear-of-failure-a-world-champion’s-perspective/)

Fear of failure is a conscious and subconscious fear. The first step in overcoming fear of failure is identifying it, which is more difficult than you would expect because it has many faces. Here are five of the faces of fear of failure. Which do you recognize in you? Which do you see in your organization?

1. Not giving 100 percent. -¨This is one of the less obvious faces of fear of failure. If you give 100 percent and fail, this thinking goes, then you’re a failure. This can be individual or collective team thinking. -¨-¨Correct this thinking by reframing your thoughts, or changing your beliefs. A reframed thought for an entrepreneur could be: “I’m all in and will give 100 percent to the success of my business. If it doesn’t succeed, I’ll take what I learn and either modify the business or start a different one.” -¨-¨ Do you and your team give 100 percent even when faced with the possibility of failure?

2. Procrastination-¨. This face is more obvious. When you’re afraid to fail and you think you might fail, you put off doing things so you don’t have to face failing. One simple way to address this is to define a small action and do it; get into action. The success of your action will build a little momentum and confidence. Continue to take one step at a time until you have enough courage and momentum to go full on either as a team or individual. -¨-¨How much do you procrastinate, how prevalent is procrastination in your team?

-¨-¨3. Rationalizing. -¨This happens often in business development and with weak leaders. Individuals make excuses for underperforming rather than taking responsibility. Stop deceiving yourself and making excuses. You’ll win some and lose some, if you try something new, you’ll make mistakes. To become a high-performer, learn from both winning and losing. That’s what world-class athletes and top businesspeople do. -¨-¨ Do you or those around you rationalize when you don’t get the outcomes you want?

4. Avoidance. -¨ Avoiding situations where you think you might fail is a sure way to be an underachieving person or business. Work to reframe your thoughts so that you win by giving 100 percent effort to achieving what you’re avoiding. Focus on the process, not the outcome. What do you avoid? What does your team or organization avoid, out of fear of failure?

5. Blaming shamming and naming. When mistakes happen, or a new initiative or project fails do you or those in your organization point the finger at others (blame, shame and name them), or take responsibility? In a culture without fear of failure, the mistake is an opportunity to learn and grow; it needs to be fully analyzed to be understood. It may reveal just what was needed for the initiative to work. What is your level of self-responsibility? What is your team’s and organization’s?

We all try to protect ourselves from failure. Ironically, the fear of failure keeps us underachieving. All highly successful people and organizations fail-”usually more than others-”because they take more risks and so fail and succeed more often than others. Are you and your organization courageous enough to fail -¦ in order to succeed?

Dr. TC North is a high-performance executive coach and speaker who accelerates individuals’ and organizations’ success in becoming high performers. For 25 years, he has coached business and sales leaders to create extraordinarily profitable, high-performing organizations that people love to work for. Contact him at www.tcnorth.com.

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Richard Blanchard
Rick is the Managing Editor of Corp! magazine. He has worked in reporting and editing roles at the Port Huron Times Herald, Lansing State Journal and The Detroit News, where he was most recently assistant business editor. A native of Michigan, Richard also worked in Washington state as a reporter, photographer and editor at the Anacortes American. He received a bachelor of arts from the University of Michigan and a master’s in accountancy from the University of Phoenix.