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23 Jul 2012

How Work Pressure and Fear Affect Innovation

This entry is part 3 of 15 in the series Creative Innovation

Pressure and fear hinder creativity and innovation.

How do pressure and fear affect innovation? What are their signs in decision making?

It is simple. Employees who feel pressure and fear are less creative and innovative. Daniel Gilbert in “The Science Behind the Smile” is blunt:

I know of no data showing that anxious, fearful employees are more creative or productive.

Effects on Decision Making and Problem Solving

This goes beyond just creativity and innovation though. It infects decision making and problem solving in the whole firm. Employees play it safe. They avoid risk. As Heidi Gardner finds:

Enthusiasm for innovation and improvisation gives way to concern for strict professionalism and for covering all the bases.

That means the firm becomes less aggressive, less dynamic. This can kill in a fast changing marketplace. As stakes go up, pressure and fear trigger security needs. Those related to growth and differentiation fade. Focus will be on the old and the same. The status quo wins.

More than just Avoiding Pressure and Fear

Simply avoiding pressure and fear is not enough though. We need to promote a relaxed one. The problem though is going too far. We force this. We try too hard to make things relaxed and fun.

As the article “Down with Fun” cites, “this cult of fun is driven by three of the most popular management fads of the moment: empowerment, engagement and creativity.” As a result, when “fun becomes part of a corporate strategy it ceases to be fun and becomes its opposite” and concludes that the “most unpleasant thing about the fashion for fun is that it is mixed with a large dose of coercion.”

In other words, we pressure employees to relax and have fun. They then fear discovery if they are not. Context and culture count. Management plays a key role.

Role of Management

Management needs to have the talent, skills and training for leading an innovative culture. Management needs to know what is involved in building and changing culture. Then it needs to know how to manage to that culture.

For example, Gilbert says “half of employees who experienced uncivil behavior at work intentionally [my emphasis] decreased their efforts.” He reminds us that “managers establish the tone when it comes to incivility.”

The key then is not mission statements and policies. To remove fear and promote innovation, the key is relationships. These are the touch points among employees, managers and the firm. Managers are responsible for building a culture in which these points thrive.

 

 

 

Series Navigation<< Linking Disruptive Innovations and Disruptive PersonalitiesCreative Innovation (Pt 4): Spontaneity & Frequency >>

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