Innovation / Mental Block · March 10, 2022

Innovation Mental Block 1: Fear of Failure

Fear of failure keeps a lot of people from being more creative.

Typically, people think of innovation as a purely logical endeavour. If you look at the process of innovation on a personal level though, you would realise that emotions actually play a big role. Right emotions can propel innovation and bad emotions can hinder it.

Fear of failure is also such an emotion. And a strong one.

Seasoned innovators know for any new pursuit, failure is the default. All innovative endeavours inevitably come across at least a few failure. Successful innovators must learn how to handle failures well.

What was the last time you failed well?

Think about the time when you learned how to ride a bicycle. To keep your balance, you need to keep nudging the handle with a right amount of force. Anything more or less throws you off.

It’s the same with all new things. When you trying anything new, far more things can go wrong than can go right.

Most people rarely, if ever, try something new. That’s why they are uncomfortable with failures. By confining themselves to tried and tested methods, they expect that things should keep working. When they don’t, they get depressed.

Conventional wisdom keeps bringing us moderate success. Over time, we get so accustomed to success that failure seems like an impossible place to be in.

So how to do we overcome the fear of failure and open ourselves to innovate more?

The most effective method of overcoming any fear is incremental exposure. This means that to overcome the fear of failure you need to fail more often but all the while keeping the consequences in check.

While learning to ride a bicycle, the worst that could happen to you was that you would fall. You knew it wouldn’t be a catastrophic failure, so you kept on trying.

So you should aim to innovate (and possibly fail) in small settings first. Here are some small settings you can try innovating in to begin with:

  1. Challenge yourself to do some task in an such a short amount of time that it looks impossible. Then make a reasonable plan and give it a try.
  2. Go to your kitchen with your eyes shut and bring back a glass of water to your desk. Come up with ideas to help you do it more flawlessly next time.
  3. Think of a crazy way to re-organize your desk. Then try it out.
  4. Find a broken device in your home and attempt to repair it. Read about how it works or ask someone for help. Do all your can to fix it.
  5. Cut your daily expenses by 80% for two weeks. Plan how you can get the best value out of the remaining 20%.

Many of these experiments will fail. But the upside is that they won’t get you in more trouble than probably bumping into a wall.

By doing such experiments on a regular basis, you open your mind to new ways of doing things which 99% don’t see. You will realize that the fun you have while innovating far outweighs the risk involved.

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P.S. Cover Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash