09 February 2011

Fear of Success

Matisse once said that “If you want to be a painter, cut out your tongue." To be sure, it's much easier to talk about doing something than it is to actually do it. But why do we continuously find ourselves sitting on (or talking ourselves out of) ideas?

I'm sitting on two ideas that I've built all the way up to inches from launch. But still I wait. I stall. I hesitate.

I used to blame things like this on a simple fear of failure. What happens, after all, if you put your name and reputation behind an idea that ends up being a dud? What does that mean the next time you try to sell an idea? This risk is omnipresent when exploring innovation.

More and more, however, I'm starting to chalk up "failure to launch" to the fear of success. Think about it. What happens if your idea is a hit? Will you have time for it? Will it take your energy and time away from things you are already doing that you love? Things that pay the bills? Things that feel comfortable?

We talk about ideas because it requires no attention. Blurt it out. Heck, you can even build it out. But until we bring our creation to life, all we have done is create another distraction.

Linda Stone writes about something called Continuous Partial Attention to describe the modern worker's hyper-connected, always on, and always distracted way of life. The amount of work most of us do on a given day is astounding. How much of it, however, is accomplished with 100% focus? Imagine if you could do half the work, but do it twice as well...

In credit unions we battle regulatory issues, financial performance, member service, the economic environment, and a million other challenges each and every day at work, and every other waking hour on our smart phones, web browsers, and weary minds. It's little wonder that we see new ideas as impossible undertakings. It's a zero sum game, after all.

My take? We need to find a way to turn things off. To disconnect. To free our schedules from the hooks of today so we can focus on the future. We'd fear success a heck of a lot less, after all, if we could fit it into our schedules.


Jasolution said...

Made me think of Seth Godin's post yesterday:

"You don't need more time, you just need to decide."

It's a nice saying, but the reality I am forced to confront often is that time really is a limiting factor, primarily from am opportunity costs standpoint. I, like you, have scores of ideas I'd love to put into motion. In order to take on something new, I have to give something else up, which is often a much greater challenge to me than a fear that my ideas will succeed.

Is idea X worth spending less time with my kids? Is taking on client Y worth giving up working with clients A, B and C? Those are the tough decisions that I wrestle with.

robertwrutkowski said...

I like the old quote from Frank Herbert's Dune: "Fear is the mind killer." Also, it is easy to spend your day reacting to demands as opposed to creating new ideas and then turning those ideas into reality. The latter is a lot more fun though.

Mark said...

I feel your pain here and I'm starting to believe that it's not the fear of success that's my barrier, but the fear of decision making that does me in.

Once you bring one of these projects to life you are required to make decisions about it almost daily. Do I work on it today? Is it a priority? Is it actually being successful? How do I better measure it? Do I need to spend time spreading the word? Are there partnerships that could help? Is this failing? Is today the day I pull the plug?

I went through it with cufilter.com (which I've just kind of let waste away) and I'm going through it now with a project called FlockWatcher and a few others that are close launch.

What I have found is that the practice of making decisions is actually great practice for making decisions!

In my experience, the real benefit from these projects has been practicing the process of taking an idea, turning it into something real, and then making decisions on that real something. Well...that and the relationships built with the people you collaborate with during such projects. :)

DarrenT. said...

I always say, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." If you have an idea for fixing something that is broke, you should definitely fix it even if you are afraid of it for whatever reason. But if it isn't broke, you should indeed be afraid of fixing it because you may break it by accident and you wouldn't want that to happen.

rkbor said...

Well-put and to the point. Decisions, even small ones can be hard to make with less than full focus on the topic or issues. Big decisions that have big complications or implications certainly require one's focus sand attention, but also one's commitment and dedication which can be even harder to come by. But no great idea or brilliant launch came from sitting. Or thinking or talking alone.