I’ve been fortunate to be intimately involved as a consultant and/or team member with the inner-workings of well over 70 organizations throughout my career. All but one openly identified “innovation” as a key objective for their organization. And while they all took various tactical and strategic approaches to driving innovation, there was one cultural characteristic that almost always determined the level of success they were able to achieve: FEAR.
There is an inverse relationship between fear and innovation. The more fear there is in your culture, the less innovation there will be. Fear kills innovation.
Fear is a powerful word. It brings to mind horror movies and haunted houses. It’s much more subtle in the workplace, though. That’s why so many innovation-seeking leaders fail to recognize or admit it exists while it undermines the very innovation their organization needs to be successful over the long haul. I’ve had leaders adamantly deny the presence of fear in their culture when it’s incredibly obvious. Some go so far as to ask team members, while I’m in the room, if fear exists in their culture and then point to a “no” answer as proof – not giving any consideration to the fact that the team member might just be too afraid to say “yes.”
I’ve found that a much quicker and more productive way to address innovation-stifling fear in an organization is to focus on trust. Rather than asking if fear exists, ask if trust exists. A lack of trust within your organization is likely the root cause of fear anyway. If you focus on building trust within your organization, fear will naturally begin to be replaced by the value-creating innovation you’re after.
Fear kills innovation; trust feeds it.