Fear of looking stupid

Anthropologist Lauren Herckis tells us why teachers “hesitate to adopt innovative teaching methods.” Apparently, they don’t want to look silly in front of their students. Read more…

And what’s true for the Carnegie Mellon faculty members she studied is true for a whole lot of organizations.

Conformity trumps creativity more often than not.

Risk taking is never easy. Fear of failure, be it an individual or an organization, can sometimes be overwhelming. Successful organizations often fail to innovate for the fear of losing what they have. They forget that to unlock sustainable value, they’ll have to overcome the uncertainty inherent in “change.” They don’t want to disrupt an existing business model.

Most companies simply want to appease clients, investors, employees by efficiently exploiting what they already have.

But what will this cost an organization?

Missed opportunities, loss of competitive advantage, and much more…

With large corporates typically thriving on strict rules and structure, brilliant ideas don’t always find takers. When firms are run by failure-intolerant leaders, creativity in employees is squashed and there is no room for novelty and increased ROI in the future. If employees balk at new ideas, organizations are unlikely to initiate any sort of potentially useful reforms, in terms of thinking or policy, for fear of upsetting the “culture.”

According to Goller and Bessant, blocks to creativity include
· Pressure to conform (e.g. “That’d never work around here…)
· Pressure from peers (e.g. fear of looking foolish or being ridiculed)
· Pressures of resources (e.g. “We are too busy getting on with the day-to-day stuff!”)
· Pressures from within (e.g. Concerned about impact on job)
· Pressure of hierarchy (e.g. “It’s not my job.., “The boss wouldn’t like that...”).

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Big companies can’t innovate or can they?
Thankfully, there are just too many success stories—say, GE, The New York Times, and Hasbro—to give credence to this statement. (Read Maxwell Wessel’s three-part series in the Harvard Business Review for the other point of view.)

And, people have stopped staying that only startups can innovate. It isn’t that wildly successful start-ups are immune to this fear of failure. It isn’t that their money is any less precious. It isn’t that they have fewer constraints to disruption. Then why are they synonymous with the spirit of innovation? Startups seem to accept that failing is part of growth. They seem to understand that one defeat does not sound the death knell for their entrepreneurial venture. They want to push the frontiers and win big. But to be fair, data shows that most startups end in failure.

If you are holding back efforts to innovate to maintain the status quo, then it is high time you asked: “What if?”

Businesses have clearly understood that the only way forward is this—understand business challenges or identify new opportunities/possible areas of improvement, unlearn and rethink existing assumptions and processes, ideate to create better value propositions for all stakeholders, design a new direction and optimize components, choose the best idea and prototype, implement the new model, and finally learn to adapt and improve. (Look at this CB Insights infographic to know what corporate innovation is not.)

Things are looking up for innovation in the business world (business model, processes, culture, products, services) through—innovation techniques such as idea innovation labs, crowdsourcing, hackathons, and incubators; strategic partnerships and acquisitions; and leveraging other enablers of innovation, including encouraging a high-performance culture, to bridge the innovation gap.

About the Author

Dhanya Menon
Dhanya Menon is an editor and academic writer. This is her first stint in content marketing, having spent over 5 years in e-learning. Her interests are varied. She likes to lose track of time reading anything from chemistry to Allende, from statistics to Thurber cartoons, from Ruth Rendell to listening to her son's unique take on life.