Feb 27

Fear is innovation’s mortal enemy

Lots of us work, or have worked, for people who made us afraid to fail. They scared us so much that weYelling
became paralyzed with fear. One of my bosses routinely screamed at me and others. Another took his cigarette and lit one of my newsletters on fire to show his displeasure. A third would surreptitiously undercut many of my moves behind my back.

Beth Comstock, president of NBC Universal Integrated Media, recently addressed the subjects of fear and risk-taking at an Institute of Public Relations audience. During her address, she asked: ‘Is there anyone here who hasn’t spent a sleepless night anticipating the next day’s big story, having quite confidently told our boss or our client we knew the outcome and then living in fear of being fired the next morning for not delivering what we promised? I’ve been fired in my imagination at least a couple hundred times.’

While I can totally sympathize with Beth (a former client, btw), I’d like to think the draconian work environments I knew in the 1980s and early ’90s (and she apparently knew until quite recently) are the exception, and not the norm.

Managing by fear may be a sure fire prescription for Six Sigma-type compliance, but in today’s rapidly-changing world, businesses desperately need risk takers. To her credit, Comstock says she encourages risk taking at NBC. I sure hope so, because staying awake nights worrying if a failed media placement might cost a job, is no way to inspire out-of-the-box thinking. Come to think of it, it’s not much of a way to live either.