Evolution has wired us to run from our fear, but that’s often the last thing you should be doing.
According to conservationinstitute.org the 10 fastest animals are the:
Peregrine Falcon, Frigate Bird, Sail Fish, Cheetah, Pronghorn Antelope, Blue Wildebeest, Lion, and Thomson’s Gazelle.
But what if I were to tell you can outrun any of these animals? Ridiculous, right?
Yet, whenever I hear the question, “Which is the fastest animal on the planet?” I’m reminded of a famous quote by Steve Jobs from a 1990 video interview in which he talked about how humans have been able to build devices that allow us to far surpass any other animal. We can outrun anything, well, almost; read on.
Our highly evolved brains are still part of an evolutionary process that is shackled by the need to run from fear. We are masters at trying to outrun those things that threaten us and our survival. It’s a magnificent mechanism that nature has built into our DNA to keep us away from danger.
But here’s where that hardwired instinct to run leads us astray.
Wired To Run
When we encounter fear our first instinct is to high tail it, as fast as we can, in the opposite direction. And we don’t just apply that to a burning fire or a pursuing predator, we apply it to every fear–the tangible and the intangible, the real and the perceived, the existential and the internal.
So, what does this have to do with innovation and success?
Simply put, fear outside of the jungle is rarely the enemy. It is just as often the ally, an indicator of where we need to go rather then what we need to run from.
When you think about the people and organizations that you hold out as role models for disruptive innovation, reinvention, and leadership you inevitably find that they have run directly into the flames that everyone else is trying to stay far away from.
First Fear, Then The Fall
In an amazingly insightful and transparent case about Nokia’s fall from the pinnacle of mobile phones, Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, former CEO of Nokia, shared with INSEAD how trying to run from fear and hide from it lead Nokia executives and managers to behave in ways that fundamentally ignored the threats they faced, internally and externally, rather than have the emotional fortitude to take these fears head on.
I’ve seen this behavior in dozens of organizations that spend so much of their time and energy running away from what they most need to run towards. Kodak did it with digital photography. Blockbuster did it with on demand video. Borders did it with online bookstores. The theme repeats itself like clockwork throughout every industry. Companies double down and build fortresses to protect themselves from what they fear, they first discount and ignore the fear, then they are paralyzed by it, and ultimately they are overtaken by it.
Don’t get too arrogant and think to yourself, “Oh, yeah, they should have known better–I do and it would never happen to me!” because it’s not just large companies that run from fear, we are all tempted to do it.
You’re putting off a major decision because you are fearful of making the wrong choice. You’re not keeping track of your finances because you fear that you won’t be able to deal with the reality of your situation. You’re not taking a risk because you fear failure. You’re not being honest with a colleague or friend because you fear the repercussions of telling the truth. You get the point here, the list is long; go ahead, be bold and add your own fears. Now, be honest with yourself, are you running from or towards these fears?
You Can’t Outrun This
We run from those things that threaten us most when what we should be doing is drawing ourselves closer to them. The fear is rarely “out there” and almost always “in here.” While you can run from the external threats, you can never run from the ones inside yourself and your organization.
That was the error that Nokia and so many companies, and people, make when they try to outrun fear; they are really just trying to outrun something internal that is undermining good decision making. Ultimately that behavior creates a culture of dishonesty, deceit, and inaccurate thinking. It erodes your values and even your morals. Rather than place distance between the fear and yourself you bake it into your culture and your psyche, allowing it to drive your decisions and actions in a way that actually prevents you from moving forward. That’s the point where you’ve suddenly consummated the worst possible transaction–trading in your future for fears.
Instead, what if you run towards your fear, in lockstep with it, facing it with honesty and integrity, until you are able to learn the lesson it has to teach? Because while you can outrun pretty much anything on the planet the one thing you can never outrun is the fear inside yourself.
This article was originally published on Inc.
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Tom Koulopoulos is the author of 10 books and founder of the Delphi Group, a 25-year-old Boston-based think tank and a past Inc. 500 company that focuses on innovation and the future of business. He tweets from @tkspeaks.