Creative Thinking: Fear of Taking the First Step

  • 3 mins read

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. ~ Lao-tzu, ancient Chinese philosopher
In “Reclaim Your Creative Confidence” (Harvard Business Review, December 2012), authors Tom Kelley and David Kelley identify four common fears that block our best ideas from coming to fruition:
1. The messy unknown
2. Being judged
3. Taking the first step
4. Losing control
I wrote about the first two fears (of the messy unknown and being judged) in prior posts. Here’s more about the fear of taking the first step.
Creative efforts are hardest at the beginning: writing the first sentence, making the first phone call, announcing the intended project. The first step can be anxiety-provoking and physically draining. You need to stop planning and get started.
In order to get into action, you’ll need to stop focusing on the huge overall picture and find a small piece you can tackle right away. Give yourself a crazy deadline. Instead of “by the end of the week”, try for “before lunch”. You might just surprise yourself!
At IDEO, Tom and David Kelley embrace the mantra “Don’t get ready, get started!” The first step will seem much less daunting if you make it a tiny one and force yourself to do it now.
When you procrastinate, you allow anxiety to build. It may be reassuring to spend more time planning, thinking and talking about your action steps, but much of this is wasted time.
Fear of Losing Control
Courage is only the accumulation of small steps. ~ Gyorgy Konrad, Hungarian essayist
When you abandon the status quo, you open yourself up to the possibility of making mistakes. When you develop ideas with others, this possibility increases substantially.
Collaboration means losing complete control of your product, team and results. This is an enormous sacrifice, especially for control-oriented executives.
In reality, we have less control than we think. The downside of shunning collaboration is staying stuck with the same routines, products and business models. In a rapidly changing world, this really isn’t an option. If your business doesn’t change, it won’t sustain success in the long term. Marshall Goldsmith’s oft-quoted adage is true: What got you here won’t get you there.
When you sacrifice control, the creative gains can more than compensate for the risks involved. Start small. Look for opportunities to cede control and leverage different perspectives. As a leader, you can:
o Set up pilot projects.
o Invite new people to participate.
o Observe the culture to learn how mistakes are processed.
o Make sure the unspoken rules don’t squelch risk-taking and creativity.
o Frequently communicate shared values to reinforce creative thinking aligned with mission and purpose.
o Remind people of both analytical and creative thinking values, and support their ideas.
Your business cannot evolve without new ideas. Be humble enough to let go of what worked in the past and brave enough to seek innovation in a rapidly changing world.
Don’t get stuck at the starting line. Let go of your fears and practice creative thinking (and doing) now.

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