I recently sat across from a senior executive at a well-known, global company and he told me, “We are not interested in breakthroughs – we are happy with incremental improvement”. I nearly fell out of my chair.  It was almost as if he told me he was happy with his Sony Walkman or VHS player. However, his comments got me wondering – “What would have someone – or some organization – “fear” innovation, creativity, or breakthrough?

Based on my continued conversation with this particular executive, and reflecting over similar conversations in the past, it occurs to me that their “fears” share some common ground:

  • Fear of losing control:  Innovation is often “messy”.  Creativity is a non-linear process.  Management is about two things and only two things: control and predictability.
  • Fear of giving up what has made us successful:  The vast majority of my clients are extremely accomplished before hiring Insigniam.  Often they are number 1, 2, or 3 in their industry.  A common concern is, “You want me to stop doing what I know works for something new?”  It’s a bit like a trapeze artist that has to let go of their secure grip on their bar, and trust that another bar is waiting for them after their triple summersault.
  • Fear of the unknown:  Human nature dictates that we survive – even if our survival is just that – holding on, tolerating things that are unworkable, even suffering.  Time and time again I see people in business chose to stick with something that they openly and vociferously complain about – because it’s the devil that they know.
  • Fear of having to deliver something extraordinary – again and again:  Many organizations are set up to reward status quo performance and results.  People that row too hard are criticized by their peers and can be seen as a threat by their managers.  The unspoken fear in many organizations is “If I produce something extraordinary, that will become the new expectation moving forward.”  If “Breakthrough” becomes expected, how will I continue to deliver?

What fears have you seen get in the way of breakthroughs in your organization?

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