From shaking in fear to shaking fear off: Finding your inner creative courage

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” 

– Mark Twain

We have all been there… You and a group of colleagues are brainstorming solutions to a new business problem. Suddenly, inspired by what someone else said, you speak before you’ve had a chance to fully process your thoughts — and out comes something completely out of left field.

You scan the room for reactions. Then, when nobody jumps in to support your suggestion, you quickly take it back before anyone has a chance to shut it down. “It was just a thought,” you half-apologize, too scared of judgment and failure to allow the new idea to breathe and grow.

And instead, the group ends the session with only familiar directions that have little chance of producing any real breakthroughs. Fear strikes again.

Conquering fear is the key to change and innovation

In a world where offer outweighs demand in almost every industry, differentiation is the key to real, long-term success. But organizations can no longer simply upgrade their products or services, and hope for audiences to see the difference care.

True differentiation is the result of change and innovation.

This is where fear comes in.

Fear is one of the most powerful human emotions, valuable in some contexts but paralyzing in others. Fear prevents organizations from considering new directions and following them. Fear prevents groups from identifying new opportunities and proposing new solutions. Fear prevents people from having new ideas and sharing them with others.

Fear leads to censorship, which leads to sameness.

Fear is the enemy of the new.

Fear must be conquered.

Conquering fear is more important than ever

Of all the military metaphors used in business, the one about the need to conquer fear in order to win the battle over the competition is perhaps the most common. And yet, it continues to be as relevant as ever in today’s saturated market — even if experts approach it from completely different perspectives.

In their latest book entitled Creative Confidence, IDEO partners David and Tom Kelley draw from a variety of different studies, stories and experiences to present a method for rediscovering the inherent creativity in all of us.

Inspired by research done with people with a phobia of snakes, their method is built on a series of small steps that allow even the least creative to gradually get comfortable with sharing new ideas. You can read more about this process and how to master it here.

In his workshops and video series, rock star designer and artist James Victore takes a much more in-your-face approach to promoting fearlessness. A revolutionary at heart, Victore has made it his personal mission to shake people out of their comfort zone and self-imposed limitations, with philosophies like “Feck perfuction” and “There ain’t no rules”.

He argues that we should treat fear as inescapable fact of life that we have to use to our advantage and simply push through in order to “produce great work”. You can learn more about Victore’s unique brand of creativity teachings here.

Whether with many baby steps or one giant leap, or somewhere in between, it is worth figuring out the path that will lead you past your own fear.

Conquering fear is easier than you think

  1. Consider the alternative. Have you ever kicked yourself for not speaking up when you had the chance? Of course you have! Don’t make a habit of it. Think of the regret you’ll feel if you have a (potentially) great idea that never sees the light, or if someone else gets credit for a lesser one.
  1. Ask yourself, what’s the worst that can happen? Now compare that to the best-case scenario. This should put things in perspective for you quickly. The worst is probably minor embarrassment in front of colleagues, while the best is getting your idea out there, success in the workplace, and getting to do more work that you believe in. Tough call.
  1. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Personal (and professional) growth only ever happens when you shake loose of your comfort zone. Complacency is a killer for creativity. Learn to recognize discomfort as an indication that you are on the right track. Acknowledge your fear, understand it, but don’t let it overwhelm you.
  1. Know that you have a unique perspective. Your background, experiences, and way you process the world are totally unique. That makes you uniquely qualified to come up with ideas that others probably won’t. This is why great organizations place such a high value on diversity.
  1. Take a deep breath and jump in. Ever hesitate at the side of a cold pool or lake contemplating the temperature. There are no half-measures – you either take the plunge or you don’t. Just spit it out. Hit the “f@#k it” button. Shoot the puck. Press send. The only way to get validation is to put your ideas out there.
  1. Try to care less. Not about the idea, but about the reactions from both yourself and others. Try to care less about how you may come across. About what others think of you in that moment. About getting validation. About feeling rejection. A rejection of an idea is not a rejection of you.
  1. Fake it till you make it. You don’t have to feel confident to begin with. Few do. A reasonable facsimile will do. Get your first victory, then go from there. Practice makes perfect, and success breeds success.
  1. Reward yourself. Pushing yourself can be hard. Take some time to celebrate wins — even small ones. Share your excitement with friends. Go eat someplace nice. Indulge yourself with a hard-to-justify trinket or gadget. You’ve earned it.

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