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Innovation Cafe Podcast

Post Written By Sandie Glass, Owner of Innovation ROI

A Strategic Full Service Ideation & Research Company

Fear of Failure

In this episode of the Innovation Cafe Podcast, Sandie Glass shares:

– What fear of failure is

– Why we experience it

– How to overcome it

This quick, encouraging overview will help you get past the self-doubt that creeps into our psyches when we are under stress and not making as much progress as we hoped. Failure is only defined by our values and belief systems – and everyone operates under a different set of these. A Life Journey is no different than an Innovation Journey – we will stumble, make mistakes and have set-backs. It’s all part of learning, growing, and achieving our goals.

Our new mantra should be “Fail Fast, Fail Often.”

Listen-in to learn more to help you avoid the fear, frustration and failure of your innovation initiatives.


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I’d like to share an old objection I used to get when I started approaching new clients for innovation business back in the late 90’s. It goes something like this —“Why should I hire an outside innovation firm to come up with new product ideas when we spend a lot of money recruiting and hiring the best talent in the industry.Our employees are smart and talented and coming up with ideas to grow the business is what they are getting paid for.”

Well, yes, what they said is true – the people they are hiring are smart and talented, but what they don’t see is that many of them fear failure and that ONE thing will jeopardize  the best innovation efforts.

Fear of failure stops us from doing the things that can move us forward to achieve our goals. While fear itself can sometimes be beneficial when it comes to self-preservation, fear of failure does us no good in the modern business world, yet It’s all around us. Maybe you had a bad experience once before and it was so traumatic that you choose not to do it again. Perhaps it was a speaking engagement that went poorly and that fear is preventing you from taking another speaking engagement in the future. Or maybe you didn’t grow up in a supportive environment at home and it’s just hard for you to trust co-workers to help on a project, so you go it alone. Or maybe you have low self-esteem or get caught in the downward spiral of self-doubt and find yourself using negative statements like “I’ll never be good enough to get that promotion” or “I’m not smart enough to get on that team” so you just never try.

We all have different definitions of failure because we all have different values and belief systems. A failure to one person might simply be a great learning experience for someone else, or a challenge to another. Yet the universal definition of failure seems to be a waste of money, time or reputation. You may have heard the question – is the glass half full or half empty? The answer to this question is generally a clue to how you approach failure. Do you think failure is “the end of the world?” or do you believe it is “a lesson in disguise?” Whatever you believe it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. As Henry Ford once said , “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”

Every one of us has experienced a Fear of Failure moment – some more than others. It can stunt a company’s growth if you don’t have the right people with the right personality and vision in positions that are directly accountable for innovation and growing your business.

So where did this “Fear of Failure” come from? If you went to traditional school, then you have definitely been trained to fear failure from an early age. Here’s why: Getting the “right” answer the first time is the only thing that is rewarded in most schools. Getting the wrong answer is punished in a variety of ways: low grades, scolding, those disappointing looks from teachers, as well as being teased by other students. And what’s really sad is that you’ve been trained to fear failure for 12 straight years!

When it comes to starting a business or growing a business, any successful entrepreneur will tell you that the fastest way to succeed is to jump in, make things happen, and be OK with failing repeatedly. “Fail fast and fail often” is a saying you’ve probably heard in entrepreneurial circles, yet failing is still not commonly accepted as a prerequisite for success.

So how do we “unlearn” fear of failure? The best way is to start “retraining” your brain to go after new things and stretch your comfort zone by taking a class in something you’ve never done before. Yoga, painting, kickboxing — it doesn’t matter what it is. Personally I do this all the time when fear begins to creep into my psyche. I’ve learned to scuba dive, I’ve done Pilates training, and this year I’ve gotten my concealed carry license – just to overcome my fear of guns, not for any other reason. Whatever it is you do, If you’ve never done it before, you’re bound to fail the first few times you try it. And there’s nothing like being a beginner in something to force you to remember that you have to be “bad” at something before you can get “good!”

When we start our innovation journey, failure is not an option, it’s a reality. We may have some preconceived notions on what a potential customer is going to like, only to find in the concept screening that they never wanted that new product in the first place. We see this happening in the statistics – 85% of new products fail each year.  And this has got to make corporate executives in charge of innovation efforts nervous because there’s too much at stake both personally and professionally. Being a champion of a big idea that fails in the marketplace can become a career-killer in the current corporate environment. And a failed initiative does NOT achieve the original goal of the project – which is to make money – and this can be a bit of an embarrassment to the corporation as well as a red flag for shareholders.

For some companies, having a vendor as a scapegoat seems to be the more attractive reason to have a consultant, rather than what I believe is the bigger benefit – BETTER IDEAS WITH A BETTER CHANCE OF SUCCESS ON THE SHELF.  I know for a fact that experienced innovators who skillfully make the most of collaboration and insights have a higher new products’ success rate than any other process out there. Plus, there is a fearlessness about innovation consulting firms. We know all too well how to plan for a successful up-front journey. So let’s put the odds of success in your favor and eliminate that fear of failure. You can do this by collaborating with internal teams to develop ideas, or collaborating with your agency partners and outside vendors – like an innovation firm – to provide a fresh perspective, along with new approaches to create a portfolio of profitable ideas. This is the win-win that everybody wants.

Thanks for listening. If you like what you’ve heard please go to iTunes and subscribe to the Innovation Café podcast. And while you’re at it, please give me a Rating & a Review. This will make it easier for other listeners to find this podcast. Plus, you’ll be automatically entered to win a $25 gift card to Target or Starbucks. We will be announcing a winner each month for at least 3 months to celebrate the launch of Innovation Café.

And make sure you tune in next week where we will be discussing Creative Thinkers versus Critical Thinkers in the innovation process. Until then, I’m wishing you blue skies and great ideas!