But We Really are Afraid!

Fear - cropped

Contemplate this statement for a moment:

“We cannot respond [to threats or risks or change] with pure emotion, but leaders can’t omit emotions entirely.  If only because people need validation of their legitimate fear and anger before they will listen to arguments for measured action.”

While this was written in reference to political leaders responding to threats from terrorism, it offers interesting insights about leading organizations through change and innovation. These words, slightly paraphrased, were written by Washington Post editorial writer Charles Lane.  The bracketed phrase is my addition.

Change is rarely welcomed or well-received. I have long contended that people ascend to leadership positions within organizations in part because they have superior risk-taking talents.  Part of utilizing those talents is helping those they lead to move past their limiting fears – to embrace the changes the leaders realize are unavoidable.

It is easy to say that taking risks well requires removing the emotion from the process and being more empirical. And you would be right.  But Lane provides us with a valuable insight.  You will be well-served to acknowledge and honor the fears and concerns of your team before moving forward with analyzing and deciding.

Failure = Success

Pizza v2, croppedI have had an article on my website for a many years called “Seeking Initiative and Innovation?  Reward Failure!”  The title is intentionally provocative and counter-intuitive.  The core message is that you will not unleash organizational courage unless you openly and genuinely accept negative outcomes along with the positive ones.

Well, I just saw a TV ad by Domino’s Pizza called “Failure is an Option.”  Yahoo!  Exactly.  They focus on their product development process and the need to accept failures in order to get the successes.

Here are a few of the lines from the ad:

>>  “We know that not everything is going to work,” Andy Wetzel, Domino’s Product Innovation

>>  “If we gave up after every mistake, we would not come up with something new,” Tate Dillow, Domino’s Chicken Chef

>>  “In order to get better, in order to move ahead, you are going to make mistakes” and “We cannot be afraid to fail.  It sounds crazy, but it’s who we are,” Scott Hinshaw, Domino’s Executive Vice President Operations

Yea Domino’s.  They get it.  And the ad suggests they are truly incorporating the “failure is an option” philosophy into their culture.  I predict that along with the occasional setbacks Domino’s will enjoy new successes and product innovations.

The ad can be viewed at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-NPqOOErP5I

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Risk Protection = More Caution. Really?

snowboarder on the steep v2, cropped v2There is an interesting study published in the journal Injury Prevention on behavior change among skiers and snowboarders when they wear a helmet.

What would you guess?

> Option A:  Would you think that a person who wears a helmet would think they are better protected from injury and be more risk inclined?

> Option B:  Or would you think their decision to wear a helmet suggests they are more safety conscious and less risk inclined?

If you guessed Option B, you are correct.  The study tells us that helmeted skiers and snowboarders appear to ski or snowboard more safely.snowboard helmets

So, what does this tell us about human nature and intelligent risk-taking in an organizational setting?  The logical conclusion is that the better you prepare for the risk or initiative you are pursuing, the more comfortable you will be going forward.

The lesson:  prepare well before getting started.  One thing you can do is utilize the six steps of intelligent risk-taking presented in my books The Power of Risk (Maxwell Press), Business Lessons from the Edge (McGraw-Hill) and The First-Time Manager (AMACOM).

The second lesson:  Preparing well and proceeding intelligently is not likely to make you more risk-inclined and more prone to lapse into poor decisions.

Both good outcomes.


The study was conducted by researchers at San Diego State University.  The full paper on the study is available on the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) website at:  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2598370/pdf/173.pdf.  (The NCBI is part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.)

Overcome Resistance – Have an Outsider Deliver Your Idea

outsider v2, croppedThe process of innovation requires selling ideas and the change they invite.  Since most people are change adverse, knowing how to sell your ideas can make the difference between success and failure.

There was in interesting report on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition that can offer us some suggestions.  The core insight as it relates to selling ideas is that they are seen as more credible when they are presented by an outsider or someone that is less familiar to the decision-makers.

Does it make sense that the exact same idea would be more valued if it is presented by someone outside your organization as opposed to you?  No.  Is it an unavoidable part of human nature.  Yes?

And in reality, this is not a new concept.  A well known Bible verse tells us that “a prophet is honored everywhere excelogopt in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family.”

So what does this mean to you?  Consider having some of your more threatening or radical ideas delivered by outsiders or at least people who are not as familiar to the decision-makers.  You will have to put your ego in your pocket and bite your tongue as you see your idea delivered by others.  But the goal is to make a difference and that may just be what is required.


A transcript of the NPR report titled “Why We Miss Creative Ideas That Are Right Under Our Noses” is available at:


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