Don’t Let Fear Be the Reason You’re Not Innovating
On November 12th, Intersect hosted a workshop focusing on how the real estate industry can start thinking about the use of AI-powered technology to transform their businesses. All around were people that were themselves or represented landlords, brokers, developers, sales agents, mortgage lenders, property managers, and more. And despite the vast differences in what these people did within the industry, they all seemed to come up against a similar challenge that was holding them back from taking their companies and industry into the future.
After watching a couple of presentations that aimed to explain what Artificial Intelligence is and what it’s good at doing, the attendees broke off into smaller groups for moderated discussions that sought to get them thinking about where this new technology might help them solve a problem for their businesses. While many of the attendees did have different takes on their problems and how tech might be useful to solve them, there was also a common theme that seemed to arise from everyone as well; fear.
These people weren’t in fear that AI might one day make Terminators that would come to destroy us all. Rather, this was a fear of the unknown, which is a legitimate and understandable fear for any person, company, or industry.
Many people at the event spoke about how their industry was working at the moment; they were making money, so why would they venture into the unknown to try something different? They spoke about how key decision-makers at companies wanted to ensure they had a safe retirement in their future, so why rock the boat? They spoke about the potential consequences of devoting money and resources to something and then failing. They spoke about the expenses that change can create, so why risk it when things are working fine now? They spoke about any number of reasons why keeping the steady course they’re on today felt safe, so why risk changing that?
It’s not really fair to single these people out because it wasn’t necessarily them that were the fearful ones in their company or industry. But it’s also not just their industry. Fear of the unknown is a common theme for many businesses across many industries. A lot of companies that are currently doing well for themselves subscribe to the adage of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But if you wait until something is actually broken, is that too late to start fixing it?
A quick Google search shows that fear is a known issue that commonly stops a lot of companies from even thinking about trying to innovate:
InnovationManagement was able to break down four kinds of fears that stop innovation within organizations that summed up all of the fears being heard spoken of at the event that day:
“Fear exists in every organization. This includes:
- Fear of challenging a dictatorial boss
- Fear of confronting cherished dogmas
- Fear of making mistakes
- Fear of showing ignorance”
These are all very valid fears to have, especially for individuals who work for companies that are currently doing fine on their current course. But staying on the current course while the world evolves around you can only work for so long. There will always be someone (or some other company) waiting in the shadows, willing to take the risks that you’re not, and in turn, take your market share and customers.
So, how can companies work to fight against their fears and lean into new ideas and innovative initiatives?
As you can probably guess from the Google screengrab above, there are a lot of ideas on how to answer that question. You can likely find a few that speak to your specific situation with some searching of your own, but here are a few ideas to get you going on combatting your company’s possible fears around innovation.
Fear of challenging a dictatorial boss
In a 2015 article from Fast Company entitled How To (Constructively) Disagree With Your Boss starts with the piece of advice that trust is the key to convincing someone of anything. Author James Richman says, “Trust is at the center of all good employee-employer relations. Without it, there’s virtually no hope you can persuade your supervisor that your own view of things might be better than theirs.” Innovation within companies is all about helping the company to be better in the future, so you need to show your boss that you have good intentions to help the company and them through everything you do. If you can earn their trust, they will likely be more inclined to listen to your ideas and opinions and seem less scary and dictatorial.
Fear of confronting cherished dogmas
As I mentioned earlier, it’s quite common for businesses to get stuck in the mindset of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but that only works for so long. To break away from that thinking, I like the advice laid out in BusinessCollective article How Thinking Differently Is the Greatest Thing You Can Do For Your Business. In it, author Obinna Ekezie talks about how every company starts with a vision and says, “Vision can’t flourish without passion.” Passion is what drives people forward. If it feels like your company has got complacent and feels that what they’re doing now is all they can do to truly realize their vision, find ways to get people passionate about that vision again. There are likely always ways you can evolve and improve to continue striving towards that vision; people just need to reignite their passion for doing it.
Fear of making mistakes
This can sometimes be a tough fear to get over. No one likes to make mistakes that everyone will know about. Companies as a whole, especially those that are publicly traded and answer to shareholders, don’t like to make public mistakes even more. However, there is an old adage that is embraced by many of the most innovative companies and people around the world that says mistakes and failures are just learning experiences. In the InnovationManagement article sited above, they call this “The Law of Feedback” and say, “This states there is no failure, only feedback. Successful people look at failure as an ‘event,’ an opportunity to embrace learning in the process of success.” So, while mistakes can seem embarrassing, they’re only truly embarrassing if you don’t learn from them and repeat the same mistakes again. Innovation is about testing new ideas. Not every one is going to work, and that’s ok. Once you and your organization can accept that, innovation becomes a big experiment that will eventually get you to the right answer, despite some mistakes that may happen along the way.
Fear of showing ignorance
As with a fear of mistakes, most people do not want to admit when they don’t know something. As well, like fear of mistakes, companies do not want to admit they do not know something, especially if that something is about their industry or customers. They think it will make them look weak in the market and to their competitors. However, this can greatly hinder innovation, even if the company has decided that coming up with new ideas and innovations are a good idea. In HighBrow’s course on Problem Solving, there is a whole lesson called Embrace Your Ignorance, and they state that even when in the midst of trying to solve a problem, “When people hide behind their ignorance, they fail to contribute to solving the problem. They pretend to know something they don’t: they give the corporate nod, and they develop or reinforce organizational myths and legends.” If your company really wants to move forward, you need to learn that it’s ok to admit you don’t know something, because that allows you to learn more about that thing and learning leads to new ideas. “Great problem solvers know they must become masters of the unique problem and the process it affects. They know that when they walk into a new situation, they must be more focused on learning what they do not yet know than demonstrating the knowledge they already have. They ask questions others might think are stupid and challenge what ‘everyone knows’ to make sure they have the facts.” The author goes on to say that when even one person admits to not knowing something, “Often, the effort of merely explaining a complex process to a smart and ignorant person actually causes the people closest to the problem to develop a new understanding and insight.” While it may seem fearful to admit to people you don’t know everything, doing the complete opposite may actually get you to a better place of knowledge in the end.