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Posted by on Jan 2, 2014

Fear is the Enemy of Innovation

Fear is the Enemy of Innovation


Fear, throughout history, has been used as a way to get people to behave in certain ways. It is a swift and potent motivator. Unfortunately, fear still plays a prominent role in many organizations today, and is still often used as a significant source of organizational energy and power. Sometimes, fear tactics are explicit (e.g., “Do what I say, or you’re fired!”), and sometimes more subtle (e.g., “Please get this report in on time – remember what happened to Pat?”).  The reality is that the Great Recession was not the cause of the fear-driven environments that often show up in our organizations, but it magnified the fear and made an already bad situation worse.

Although fear can be an effective tactic for accomplishing compliance and driving desired behaviors, it is a very ineffective tactic for fostering innovation. In fact, fear typically stifles and suppresses innovation, greatly inhibiting its potential. It actually takes a lot of energy and resources to generate and sustain a fear-driven environment that stifles innovation. The energy and power generated from an organization fueled by innovation is far more powerful than the energy generated from a fear-fueled organization. Furthermore, the energy generated from having everyone engaged and contributing toward innovation and properly supported by innovation-minded organizations takes the form of positive motivation, engagement, collaboration, and productivity, in addition to the proliferation of new ideas and innovations that advance our organizations and our world.

Please share your experiences, stories and opinion on what factors support and what factors stifle innovation?


  1. There is a risk with changing the status quo and striving for innovation. Sometimes people genuinely fear that if they show drastic improvement, others will raise questions about why the improvement didn’t come sooner or how much more can be attained. I have seen people much more motivated to maintain the current situation because at least their work environment and performance, and management’s response, is predictable (or so they think).

    Changing culture takes leadership and commitment. It requires learning new behaviors and rewarding those actions in others. It requires paying attention to the whole system and all factors that drive performance. It is work, but work worth the effort.

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