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Fear of failure is robbing South Africa of great thinkers

Fear is the greatest energy sapper. Fear of failure, fear of ridicule and fear that things might never happen as you would like them to. As someone wisely said, fear is also the parent of cruelty. Cruelty to yourself. With fear paralysis sets in, and failure, which is so necessary for rapid innovation, is lost.

Find your own way by getting things done. An idea does not have to be crafted into perfection to be worthy of an audience. In fact, the mere act of speaking it will allow it to emerge as better than it currently is. Ideas are not like commodities which are lost when shared. Ideas gain weight and gravitas when discussed and debated with others.

In my teaching at the Raymond Ackerman Academy of Entrepreneurial Development at the Centre for Entrepreneurship, as well as through programme directing on Business Acumen for Artists at UCT’s Graduate School of Business, the same themes emerge.

Students are fearful of not having the perfect idea, of not being worthy of sharing something which may even provide the impetus for a question which someone else so desperately needs to hone their own thinking.
But how does one reduce the fear which is so often associated with a creative process and the desire to craft something new, and perhaps as yet, unimaginable?

A method I have found useful is called The Attention Audit.

In a two-day reflective process we welcome delegates to undertake an Attention Audit. In this exercise, they identify the voices of judgment, fear and cynicism in their own patterns of thinking. The beauty of the exercise lies in the fact that delegates are able to identify when they want to do it. Many choose one day at work and one day at home in order to see if the voices are activated differently in different contexts. We invite delegates to set aside the two days of their choice and to set an alarm which buzzes every two hours.

There is a three-step process which delegates then follow for the Attention Audit. First, they identify which voice has been chattering in their head and write down what it is saying. Second, they are required to undertake a breathing exercise focused on three deep breaths – each breath is a metaphor for ten years forward. Then, after the third breath, they are in a place thirty years hence and are invited to write back to the voice from a place of grace and wisdom.

The voice of wisdom responds back with advice which is given in the gentlest and most compassionate of ways. This exercise is repeated six times per day for two days. What we have found in the work we have done with seven groups across sectors with artists, entrepreneurs, designers, publishers, executives, administrative support staff and marketers, is that the voices become less active with each interaction, and that in many cases by the eleventh time, the voice of wisdom is the active guide.

For many, it is a surprise that their voices of judgment, fear and cynicism were so prevalent and many realised after having to use the voice of wisdom how often they forgot this part of engaging with themselves. It is my belief that if we are going to truly grow a nation of thinkers and doers that we need to eradicate the crippling fear which often hijacks projects and leaves things undone because there is a fear of imperfection.

My mantra is that anything is better done than perfect. After all, the light only gets in through the cracks.

2 Comments

  1. Dave Duarte

    May 8, 2010 at 9:51 am

    This is particularly relevant for bloggers like me. I often want to write a blog post but hold myself back for fear of the idea not coming out fully formed. I think the best blogging is “beta blogging” – in other words, it comes out uncontrived and as close to the authors' natural voice as possible… not perfect, but with character.

  2. Tim

    July 18, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    Great article Elaine, I'd like to hear your thoughts on fear of success too.

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