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Creating Something New -- Getting Past the Fear of Failure
by: Kevin Eikenberry

Many people wish they were more creative. They yearn for the big idea (or even the small one) and think that if they just had that one idea they’d be on their way to greater success. Certainly, we can all do things to be more creative, but having ideas isn’t the biggest, or even first, source of our challenges.

Think about it.

You’ve learned something in a workshop, gone back to work and not implemented it. You’ve thought about trying a new approach to your meetings, but never did. You’ve had a great marketing idea that never went anywhere. You’ve had an idea for a new product, or new markets for an existing product, but they are still nothing more than ideas.It isn’t a lack of ideas or no creativity that is stopping you in these (and fifty other) situations. What is stopping you is fear. The fear of failure is keeping you from taking the action needed to make progress.

Change and Failure

Failure – and success – are outcomes of change. We cannot succeed at higher levels if we maintain status quo. But inherent in change is the possibility that we might fail. So any discussion of the fear of failure needs to start with a discussion of change. While there are downsides and risks involved in change (including the risk of failure) think of all of the positives that can come from change:

Greater productivity
Better teams
Higher satisfaction
More profitability
New markets

And these are just a few. The next time you feel the fear of failure, think about how you feel about change and how that is impacting your level of fear.

Framing Failure and Success

One person’s failure is another person’s success. – it comes down to how you choose to look at it. Thomas Watson, founder of IBM, said this about failure: “If you want to succeed, double your failure rate." Watson framed failure as a stepping stone to success – like Thomas Edison did when he defined failed attempts at a light bulb as “one more way we know won’t work.”Edison and Watson looked at failure not as a FAILURE, but as a lesson learned; a chance to try again. When you begin to frame failure as a learning opportunity, you take most of the fear out of it.

Think About it Rationally

When you start to think about your fears, ask yourself two questions. These questions will help your look at your feelings more logically and rationally.

What is the worst thing that could happen? Often people ask a more rhetorical question – “what might happen?” but they don’t really answer it. They let the question hang like a dark cloud over their mind. Don’t let it hang – get it out there. Consider the very worst thing that could happen. Answer the question in your mind or write it down. Often, the absolute worst case isn’t as bad as you thought, or you quickly see that the risk of the worst case isn’t that high.

What is the best possible outcome? Seriously, what is the best thing that could happen? Think about this and, again, write it down. This is the scenario where everything goes perfectly. Will this be your outcome? Maybe not, but your worst case scenario likely won’t happen either.

It takes both of these questions to really understand your situation. Chances are, your results will be somewhere between the two. Once you have considered the range of possibilities, you are in a better position to decide whether to proceed or not, and you will have definitely reduced your fear of failure if you do take that step forward.

Prepare, But Not Too Long

It is fine to weigh your options, think about your next steps and have a plan. But there is a fine line between planning and procrastination. Make sure that your fear isn’t allowing you to cross this line. Action is one of the best antidotes to fear.

Consider it a Challenge

If you consider the risk of major failure a source of your fear, use that as a motivator and as a challenge to do everything you can to avoid the worst case. This will change your focus away from fear and towards overcoming your challenge.

Consider Lessons From Past Failures

There are two reasons past failures work to your advantage. First, when you remind yourself of what you have learned from past failures, you will increase your chances for success and reduce your concern about failing again – this reflection will give you a mindset more like that of Thomas Watson or Thomas Edison. And second, when we review our past failures, we typically see they weren’t as big a flop as we thought – or perhaps we don’t even view them as failures any more.

Both of these outcomes will help you reduce the fear you may still feel.

These approaches can help you reduce or eliminate the fear that you feel when facing a change and when contemplating the possibility of failure. Activity is the enemy of fear. Take the risk and try something new – your ideas are worth taking the chance. It might lead to a less than perfect result, but you didn’t learn to ride a bicycle without ever falling down (failing) did you?

About The Author

Kevin Eikenberry is a leadership expert and the Chief Potential Officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group (, a learning consulting company. To receive a free Special Report on leadership that includes resources, ideas, and advice go to or call us at (317) 387-1424 or 888.LEARNER.


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