Fear: The Anti-Innovator

March 8, 2016

Fear is one of the most basic human emotions. It has contributed significantly to mankind’s survival. Without it, our ancestors would have all been eaten in the Stone Age.

 

Cronk:   “Hey, didn’t that saber-toothed cat just eat Grog?”

Thag:    “Yeah, but look how cute it is…here, kitty, kitty…”

 

 So fear can be a good thing. Fear helped drive us together into social clusters through a strength-in-numbers survival strategy. And when groups of people get together, culture develops.

 

So fear helped us form culture.[1] It’s no wonder that fear is so much a part of so many corporate cultures. It’s no wonder that the FUD factor[2] is a part of sales training.

But so what? Does culture really matter?

 

Yes, it matters.

 

Fear is not usually an emotion that drives creativity and innovation. New and different, to many, is synonymous with dangerous and deadly. An organization with a culture formed out of fear and fed by fear is unlikely to be the most innovative of places.

 

The saying “culture eats strategy for breakfast” has been popularized by Mark Fields of Ford Motor Company,[3] where a framed version of that saying hangs in the company’s "War Room." The point here is not that you don’t need a strategy (you do), but rather that you need to have a strategy that can be supported by your culture. If your culture and your strategy are at odds, strategy is going to lose every time.

 

There is a chicken-and-egg issue here. Should your strategy be fit to your culture, or should your culture be fit to your strategy? The answer is…yes.

 

Culture and strategy are like earth and water. In the short term, the earth will dictate where the water flows. Over time, though, the water will wear away the earth and shape it to conform to the direction it wants to flow.

 

In the short term, you absolutely must fit your strategy to your culture. A strategic plan that goes against the culture will get pushed aside. If, however, that culture is not conducive to the long-term survival of the organization, the culture needs to be strategically changed. That takes a great deal of time and energy, but it can be done.

So if innovation is to be part of your strategy, and part of your means of achieving your mission, then you absolutely, positively, must have a culture that can support it. And fear, the anti-innovator, should not be a part of it.

 

Footnotes

 

[1] Brad Barbera, “Fear Helped Us Form Culture,” No Peer-Reviewed Journal Anywhere, Pure Speculation Press, 2015. 

 

[2] FUD=Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. Check out the FUD sales training video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ig5pYmqY5Ig to see how sales people really do leverage FUD to sell you their wares.

 

[3] Fields attributes the quote to Peter Drucker, and it’s all over the internet with Drucker’s picture next to it, but I can’t find a solid source for the original quote. So Fields gets the credit for now. Better to be a stickler for accuracy than a contributor to misinformation, right? I know. I’ve got nerd issues.

 

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