We learned a lot about Fear on our journey to write The UnStoppables. For each individual, Fear is the most primitive of emotions. It was designed a million years ago to keep us from danger. But in the process, it became the great stopper of dreams, innovative ideas and creative action. As the Navy SEALs say, it makes you stay in your hole. We learned that Fear even distorts our thinking processes and colors our perceptions with dark tones.
We must learn to outwit this quick, dumb animal inside of us so we can dare to take regular, intelligent risks. We must learn to accept “intelligent failure” to make individual progress–especially in our new age of constant accelerating change. We can never eliminate Fear, but we can tame it. And when we do, just like breaking a wild horse, we turn the beast into our own power.
Now collect hundreds or thousands of individuals into a modern entity called a corporation. To survive in a world ruled by accelerating change, this corporation must do what individuals need to do. It must be innovative, creative, adaptive and ready to take decisive action. Its collective personality and tradition–that is, its culture–has to allow the group to take intelligent risks and to accept intelligent failures, just like individuals do.
But what happens when a corporate culture is designed to maintain and even promote Fear–the way traditional command and control cultures of big companies were set up to do in decades past? What happens when the culture punishes any weakness or mistake, when intelligent risk taking is considered dangerous for any one but the owners or top leaders–where any misstep might be an excuse for a firing, rather than a means to learn, refine and improve?
The answer is that the impulse to innovate in cultures like this is effectively killed. The impulse to create and to dare is quashed. The ability to adapt and grow in an age of constant accelerating change is chained to a stake in the yard.
Big corporate Fear cultures can no longer compete in a global marketplace that demands every ounce of creativity, energy and engagement its employees have to offer if they are to have any chance of winning the economic future.
It’s just that simple. It was okay in the 20th century when America had no one to compete against. Corporate leaders could create whatever kinds of cultures they wanted and still win. Not now.
In the war for the future, companies of all sizes need to be innovative to the core. To be innovative they need to be entrepreneurial. To be entrepreneurial, the culture must celebrate a belief in intelligent risk in service of the mission–belief in learning, belief in customers and in the creativity inherent in all engaged employees. Belief that value is not created by Fear, but by turning Fear around together.
To be innovative and to succeed, the culture must allow its people to be entrepreneurs in spirit. Fear cultures kill it. Belief cultures multiply it.
It’s our responsibility to win the war for the future. We can’t get there from Fear.