Fearing the Final Step

New PictureI love roller coasters. I’m not obsessed with them, but when presented with an opportunity to ride one, I take it. I particularly like old wooden coasters. They really make you feel like you are on the edge.

And yet…

When I was a child, I had the same fascination but I rode only about half the coasters that I came across. I had a fear of the coasters with loops. I would be excited to ride them, wait in a long line, and then when the time came to finally board, it was a 50-50 shot whether or not I would just walked through to the other side.

The Loch Ness Monster roller coaster was a frequent victim to my whimsical abandonment. I think I was successful only a third of the time prior to the age of 10. This is a little silly because I had ridden it before and enjoyed it immensely. The fear remained. There was no logic behind it. It was an irrational fear.

This has passed and every time I go to Busch Gardens, I make a bee line for Loch Ness. I figured I had conquered the irrationality until…

Blizzard Beach

A water park in Disney made me realize that irrational fears are not things that can be reasoned out of existence. There is a slide there called the Summit Plummet. It is a long line on stairs to get to the top. As you move upwards, you see the occasional person walking back down after they decided that the descent on the slide was too much.

When I got to the top. I very much wanted to change my mind. The drop looked vertical and my fear of heights kicked in. I didn’t back out though. I was with a good friend and the sheer pressure of not quitting and having him know was enough to send me over the edge.

It was an awesome ride.

I won’t necessarily do it again because I am sure my fear of heights would likely return. I’ve done it once. I don’t feel the need to do it again.

So what does this all have to do with our daily travails? As you may have notcied, fear is an all too powerful force in the workplace.

Fear is the Mind Killer

The hardest part of every project is the minute you pull the final trigger. That minute when you are finally committing, irreversibly, to the project. It is a tough moment and I have seen it paralyze managers and leaders who are normally outstanding.

Numbers aren’t enough to over come their fear. While not as primal, it is fear and rationality isn’t always enough to over come it.

There is no one answer. Making sure that the decision maker understands the people that are counting on them can help. Fighting one fear with another. Fight irrational feelings with irrational feelings.

Disruptions Create Irrational Reactions

The situation of our current industry is the same scenario a thousand fold. There are thousands of leaders in organizations across the industry that are looking at the changes happening and falling back on what they know. They are abandoning the line and sticking with the safe rides.

Meanwhile, those that take the plunge are getting things that they could only imagine. While not the adrenaline rush of zipping in intertwining loops, it is a realization that the world is changing and that they are on the other side of the chasm before their competition.

We need to get past the fear of change. Lean on colleagues to go forward, realize that being last to cross is also something to be feared.

Whatever the solution, we need to work together to take that step that finally commits us to making the Content industry one of success.

2 thoughts on “Fearing the Final Step

  1. I’m afraid — get it? — that you’re exactly right. I’ve been working on a big change management project, and fear is at the top of the list of why people resist. Not a fear of falling (or landing) of course, but of the unknown. So I’ve been working on strategies to make stuff ‘known’ before rather than after.

    Even still, you might say it has its ups and downs. (Roller coaster humor!)


  2. Lawrence, we have the emotion of fear for a reason. It kept more humans alive than not having it. Fear of the unknown makes a lot of sense. Fighting fear is actually the wrong approach. Reducing the unknown as Steve suggested is a great approach. The problem is that in the environments that we work and decide today ‘knowing’ is often an illusion. Getting into trouble causes then more avoidance of it by avoding taking decisions.

    Take for example ‘big data predictive analytics’ and risk management. They produce the illusion of knowing. Avoiding fear of change by avoiding change is also an illusion. You do not change but the environment changes so change happens around you. When things then go wrong more people are trained to avoid it. So what we have to target is reduce the illusions of predictability. In classical physics (riding a roller coaster) the predictability and therefore the risk of dying in one is calculable and small. The space shuttle disasters were simply caused by people using all sorts of approaches to calculate risk. The down-to-earth engineers always said upfront that the risk of a catastrophy was one in fifty missions. It was actually two in 125.

    The problem is that people do not understand the concepts of complexity and decision making under uncertainty. All you need to be is ‘probably, approximately right’ to win in the long run. The larger the decision space the more illusions of models, theories, plans, risks, and possible actions will exist. Small is not only beautiful but also easier to manage.

    It was Porter who suggested that the large, dominating companies could hold sustainable competitive advantages. He was wrong. The larger the business and the context the less knowledge will be available to make good decisions. Information can be stored and transported, but not knowledge and the two are nowhere near the same. BI does not produce knowledge it produces information that does not support probably approximately right decisions.

    So we SHOULD fear these large, unmanageable systems that we created and get rid of them to reduce our illusions, stop naive intervention and allow human intuition to do its job.

    Intuition is an emotional engine and it uses both fear of failure and the thrill of succeeding to balance our decision making. So fear is good!


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