The most significant barrier to innovation is fear. The fear of introducing your idea and being laughed at, the fear of failure and being wrong. Innovation is not about technology, it's about vulnerability.
Evolution and incremental change is important, but most organisations are desperate for a revolution and that requires creativity and innovation. Making a difference, creating things that matter to the world require us to reach deep within ourselves and make bold bets to improve our future.
To be able to do so we need to rethink the culture of our organisations to be uncomfortable by default. In life, we’re taught to either rationalise discomfort or ignore it. We look away from it and around it, blame it on situations or others, yet rarely do we stop, let ourselves feel it and then allow it to teach us what we need to learn in order to grow. Organisations that work without clear objectives and key-results follow this path. But when you identify the discomfort in an organisation, you’ve found the place where a leader is needed. If you’re not uncomfortable in your work as a leader, it’s almost certain you’re not reaching your potential as a leader.
A successful culture is not one that is “comfortable with hard conversations” but one that has learned how to normalise discomfort. “If leaders expect real learning, critical thinking, and change, then discomfort should be normalised.” If that has not happened, you find people using blame to “discharge pain and discomfort. We blame when we’re uncomfortable and experience pain—when we’re vulnerable, angry, hurt, in shame, grieving. There’s nothing productive about blame, and it often involves shaming someone or just being mean. If blame is a pattern in your culture, then shame needs to be addressed.”
On the other side of shame and blame, you will find “an organisational culture where respect and the dignity of individuals are held as the highest values, shame and blame don’t work as management styles. There is no leading by fear. Empathy is a valued asset, accountability is an expectation rather than an exception, and the primal human need for belonging is not used as leverage and social control. We can’t control the behaviour of individuals; however, we can cultivate organisational cultures where behaviours are not tolerated and people are held accountable for what matters most: human beings.”
One pivotal area for growth is the gap “between where we’re actually standing and where we want to be.” Many leaders place the importance on strategy without acknowledging where they are actually standing before they begin. “We have to practice the values that we’re holding out as important in our culture. Minding the gap requires both an embrace of our own vulnerability and cultivation of shame resilience—we’re going to be called upon to show up as leaders and educators in new and uncomfortable ways. We don’t have to be perfect, just engaged and committed to aligning values with action.”
By paying focused attention to the language of an organisation, verbal clues can show the level of vulnerability and engagement of the employees. For example, phrases such as: "I don’t know; I need help; I’d like to give it a shot; it didn’t work, but I learned a lot; here’s how I feel; what can I do better next time?; I want to help; and, let’s move on”, show that workers do not fear cynicism, judgment, or retribution from those around them. This allows everyone in the organisation the room to develop and become stronger leaders.
On the other hand, phrases such as: “nobody told me to do so, the market is failing us, this was not a requirement or this is not in my job description” clearly uncovers a culture of externalising pain and blaming “the other”.
If you’re looking for a revolution, here it is:people who are comfortable with discomfort. So, go ahead and be the revolution. Identify the discomfort in your organisation and lead the change. Because what is most needed are people who work fearlessly on a better future.