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” breakthrough, innovation, or transformation?

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 choose 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 who 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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