How Do You Tackle Fear?

We look at the importance of tackling fear when it comes to innovation


If you look down a coffee aisle in one of today's major supermarkets, you'll notice that there is a huge variety of high quality, fair trade coffee, something which wasn't the case a decade ago. Cafedirect were the original investors in this field and also the first coffee brand to carry the fair-trade certification.

With their market share standing at around 30%, Cafedirect's fair-trade idea is an excellent example of a breakthrough innovation, as their product shifted the market towards a superior product.

At the time, investing in fair-trade coffee would have been dangerous, high-risk initiative that would either have failed disastrously or paid considerable dividends. Breakthrough Innovations like this are an advantage that come from open cultures that encourage employees to contribute ideas. If a company fears failure, it's likely that they will opt for the safest bet, which commonly just maintains the status quo. This insistence on maintaining the status quo is a state of play which companies should be wary of in today's business environment, as it can make them unresponsive to market developments and susceptible to progressive companies that are looking to take advantage of new technologies.

Lack of risk also means that most of the time employees will be operating within their comfort zones, which means that learning will be at a minimum. Although companies often put on training schemes, it's commonly new real-life situations which make an employee really progress. It's likely that a culture of fear will mean that employees are never tested and in many situations, unlikely to develop.

It's not just prospective projects which can be affected by a culture of fear - current ones can be, too. If a project is failing, but everybody is frightened to tell management that it's going nowhere due to fear that they'll be disciplined or labelled a 'disruptor', nothing will be done and the project will be pursued even if it's obviously going to fail.

If you're company has developed a fear culture then it's in your interest to make sure that it's stopped and stopped quickly. One of the most successful ways of doing this is allowing failures to be viewed in a different way - necessary iterations that bring insights which lead to the construction of an ultimately successful project.

This requires a change in leadership strategy, where management actively encourage their employees to push forward with projects that are high risk, high return. If your culture has become engrained with fear, this change cannot be done covertly, it needs be out in the open and clearly identifiable for everyone.

It's possible that many organisations will struggle to do this to begin with because their employees will be suspicious of this new open approach, but with time it is possible for the fear culture to subside. Getting rid of this type of culture is essential for companies who are looking to innovate - it will take time to rid of fear, but it'll be worth it in the long run.


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